January 29, 2008

Peter Grimes: Grim, gripping and glorious

Peter_Grimes_Opera_North.png[Daily Telegraph, 29 January 2008]

Rupert Christiansen reviews Peter Grimes performed by Opera North at the Grand Theatre, Leeds

Serge Koussevitzky, the philanthropic conductor who commissioned Peter Grimes, claimed that the result of his munificence was "the greatest opera since Carmen". Well, perhaps he was biased, but a performance as enthralling as this makes his flush of proud enthusiasm understandable.

Posted by Gary at 10:11 AM

January 28, 2008

Two Queens in Full Cry

Mariella Devia may not be the flavor-of-the-month in “au courant” operatic circles; she may not be giving come-hither looks in the current round of air-brushed Rolex ads; nor may recording companies be promoting her in hyper-drive as the next “diva du jour” (read: meal ticket).

Nevertheless, in La Scala’s new and highly effective “Maria Stuarda,” Signora Devia scored her considerable artistic triumph the old-fashioned way, free of hype and extra-musical baggage, by simply showing up and singing the living hell out of the titular queen, like any truly great star surely should.

I first heard this wonderful artist. . .well, a number of years ago, and I remembered hers to be a full, flexible, accomplished lyric voice with good thrust. Not a fussy, artsy interpreter, she made fine effect with heartfelt, well-studied vocalizing, sound technique, and simplicity of gesture. The good news is that, lo, these many years later, although time has darkened the instrument a bit, this accomplished soprano is still singing superlatively well. And she still looks petite and lovely, to boot.

Ms. Devia has all the requisite assets at her command to make a most persuasive case for our heroine. She negotiates even the trickiest coloratura with skill and accuracy, and imbues it with dramatic meaning. She scores every single time with spot-on, thrilling notes “in alt.” Indeed at opera’s end, she sang what seemed like a “q” above high “z” sounding as fresh as at the start, beginning the note at moderate volume and swelling to a full-bodied forte. Throughout, she displayed masterful use of portamento, crafting arching lines which were often achingly beautiful. And she called forth some steel in her tone and starch in her demeanor as needed to drive the drama forward in her important confrontational declamations.

If this seasoned soprano seems to employ a few small “tricks” these days, like slightly veiling soft high notes that are approached with a leap rather than a scale progression, and pacing her volume here and there to conserve her full arsenal for the “money” sections, it is very minor quibbling. Mariella Devia has all of the goods (and some to spare) to successfully take on this demanding role and make a notable star turn out of it. The Milanese public rewarded her with a deafening appreciation at final curtain.

Maria_Stuarda_LaScala_01.png Mariella Devia, Anna Caterina Antonacci, Francesco Meli, Carlo Cigni (Act I)

Happily, we were just as lucky with our other queen, in the guise of Anna Caterina Antonacci’s “Elisabetta.” The tall, lanky, and beautiful Ms. Antonacci was every bit her rival’s equal, proving to be a perfect foil physically and musically. For ACA has a rangy, disciplined, highly individual, and powerful voice, with a fair measure of metal -- and a big measure of mettle -- driven by technical mastery. This “seconda donna” also scored big with the vociferously appreciative crowd for her imposing glamorous star presence as much as for an imperious outpouring of focused sound.

The program book referred to a past successful (1971) Scala production of “Maria Stuarda” with the established stars Shirley Verrett and Montserrat Cabelle. It couldn’t help but provoke my comparing “what was” to “what is” and I have to say that Mesdames Devia and Antonacci seemed to more than hold their own up against such a previous fabled pairing. Blessed is the house that can find two complementary divas of such stature, not once, but now twice in its recent history. Bravi.

The scheduled tenor Francesco Meli was indisposed, so “Leicester” was capably assumed by Dario Schmunck. Mr. Schmunck is currently singing such things as “Elvino,” “Alfredo, “ and “Leicester” around European houses, and was already scheduled for it at La Scala later in the run. He is possessed of a perfectly pleasant lyric voice which he uses intelligently.

In a major house as this, I thought he would be, say, a perfect “Cassio,” but “Leicester” is decidedly a much bigger “sing,” calling for leading man star quality and panache that he does not yet quite fully possess.

His first aria was greeted with a derogatory comment (shouted by one of the claquers?), and he certainly did not deserve that. His enjoyable performance does still seem a work in progress, and while unfailingly pleasant and well-sung, Schmunck was not quite on a level of fire power with our two queens, from whom he notably took considerable inspiration in each of the separate duets.

Piero Terranova’s “Cecil” began somewhat tentatively. Indeed in Act One, his important solo rants were curiously weak-voiced and covered by the orchestra. Thankfully, he progressively found his stride, and by Act Three he was offering compelling, full-throated singing. “Cecil” may be a comparatively small role, but he fuels so much of the conflict that it was welcome for Terranova to come to the party in due course.

Carlo Cigni brought beauty and amplitude of tone, fine vocal presence, and sincere acting to “Talbot.” In the minor role of “Anna,” Paola Gardina displayed an uncommonly beautiful voice, one not usually lavished on such a small part. I look forward to encountering both Cigni and Gardina in future performances and larger assignments. The exemplary choral work was prepared by Bruno Casoni.

Musical values were of a very high standard. Maestro Antonio Fogliani led the excellent resident orchestra in a taut, largely unsentimental reading, that still allowed for breadth of utterance as well as touching, highly introspective musings such as in the famous Act III prayer. Especially in the sextet and the larger choral moments, Fogliani commanded admirably clean control of his assembled forces to exciting musical effect.

The venerable Pier Luigi Pizzi did his usual triple duty as set designer, costume designer, and director. The costumes were sumptuous, character-specific, evocative if not slavishly “period-correct,” and meaningful. His Elizabeth-as-Fashionista “take” worked well, and Antonacci seemed to revel in her spiffy duds. Mary’s silvery-black frock may have had the required austerity but it was elegantly handsome; and topping all else in the show, her spectacular red dress for the final prayer and execution (forgive me) was to die for.

The handsome, functional set was framed within a sort of “box” of industrial scaffolding that suggested a prison. Centered within it were gradated stepped platforms, shaped rather like an Incan pyramid, the top level of which was joined to perimeter walkways by three symmetrical ramps. By using different lighting washes on the cyclorama, many evocative silhouettes could be created. However, Mr. Pizzi’s floor plan did tend to restrict traffic patterns to a certain sameness of movement for the larger scenes.

Pizzi created a truly brilliant effect for the garden, in which we first encounter Queen Mary. The “pyramid” having been surreptitiously retracted, a full grove of life-like trees rises from underneath the stage like a veritable “dawn” of greenery, including an astro-turfed “bank” on which Mary can luxuriate and stroll. Other than this beautifully calculated forest, the overall unit setting was not intended to communicate a literal sense of time or place, but it was very pleasing to look at and functional.

Maria_Stuarda_LaScala_Anton.pngAnna Caterina Antonacci (Elisabetta)

The prison metaphor not only worked for the obvious enclosure of Mary, but suggested that “Elisabetta” was perhaps in her own “prison,” being constrained by the royal behavior and sometimes unpleasant duties expected of rulers. Part of the design concept was creating a sort of “living sculpture,” peopling this setting with omnipresent guards who prowled the structure brandishing torches. This leather clad, eye candy ensemble of strapping young men may not have added all that much, but neither did it unduly distract.

The high accomplishments of Pizzi the designer were not quite matched by Pizzi the director. I am grateful indeed that there was no bizarre “concept” imposed, that the groupings and stage placement were always serviceable and the movement cleanly competent, all of which told the story and allowed the artists to sing their best. And, yes, that famously bitchy duet scene between the two queens certainly made its full mark, and there were some lovely personalized touches overall.

Still, I had the feeling that there was more to be mined dramatically out of two such wonderful sopranos, especially the always creative Ms. Antonacci, whose “Elisabetta” seemed to settle for two-dimensions when my experience with her in past performances has shown she is fully capable of three (or more).

The one concession to modest “innovation” was that during the opening bars of the first scene, a pantomime was created in which our heroine is given communion by “Talbot,” effectively establishing her faith-based credentials and defining her predicament. (Although, since she later unceremoniously and rousingly calls her cousin a “vile bastard,” I was thinking: “And you take communion with that mouth, Miss Mary?”)

It has been said that acting is really listening. . .and re-acting. And here I think lay a (fixable) minor shortcoming of the production. Characters aren’t consistently listening to each other. And reacting. The above mentioned epithet may be the most glaring (but not only) example, for after “Maria” hurled “Vil bastarda!” at “Elisabetta,” there was scant-to-no-reaction, with “Anna” actually just remaining complacently seated. I mean, the take-no-prisoners Queen has just been insulted (all right, all right, she has taken one or there would be no story)! I would hope that some minor tweaking and enhanced character interplay could be instilled that could make an already fine evening even finer.

In past years, much ink has been spilled and hands wrung about the state of the art at La Scala. At least based on this visit, its reputation as one of the world’s leading opera houses has emphatically been sustained. A tour of their adjacent museum was revelatory as to how this lofty regard came to be established in the first place, since it contains numerous terrific portraits, photos, mementos, props, scores, letters, and instruments touched by many (perhaps most) of the greatest composers and interpreters of the last 200 years of operatic history, all of whom gifted their musical talents to La Scala.

Maria_Stuarda_LaScala_03.png Scene from Act II

It is also telling that, currently on view, there is a special display of costumes worn by Maria Callas for all the roles she performed at the house. This remembrance of the thirtieth anniversary of her death offered a reminder, should any be needed, that we would not perhaps be hearing “Maria Stuarda” and a good deal of the bel canto repertoire in wide performance today were it not for La Divina’s blinding talent and trail-blazing musical advocacy.

Maria may be gone but it seems La Scala can still summon up greatness, as Mariella Devia and company aptly demonstrated. The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.

James Sohre

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Maria_Stuarda_Devia.png image_description=Mariella Devia as Maria Stuarda (Photo by Marco Brescia courtesy of Teatro alla Scala) product=yes product_title=Gaetano Donizetti: Maria Stuarda product_by=Above: Mariella Devia (Maria Stuarda)
All photos by Marco Brescia courtesy of Teatro alla Scala
Posted by Gary at 12:00 PM

January 27, 2008

'Judas Maccabaeus'

Haendel_Denner.pngL.A. Opera performs the work at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
By Chris Pasles [LA Times, 28 January 2008]

Many go to war, but few return. That was the striking image in the Los Angeles Opera production of Handel's "Judas Maccabaeus" on a rainy Saturday night at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

Posted by Gary at 8:58 PM

Italian girl charms with humour, style

piques_eddy.png(Photo by Devon Cass)
Lloyd Dykk [Vancouver Sun, 27 January 2008]

VANCOUVER - The lovable opera L'Italiana in Algeri, The Italian Girl in Algiers, gives us a good picture of what Gioacchino Rossini must have been like: a witty rascal, a bon vivant, as brilliant a concocter of music as he was of food.

Posted by Gary at 8:51 PM

Soprano shines in silly `Pearl Fishers' As the spurned Zurga violently.

O_Flynn.pngBY LAWRENCE A. JOHNSON [Miami Herald, 27 January 2008]

As the spurned Zurga violently assaults Leila, who has rejected him for his best friend Nadir, a gentleman in the audience turned to his wife and said, ``They didn't do this in Boston.''

Posted by Gary at 8:42 PM

„Eugen Onegin“: Pique Dame als Psychothriller

Pique_Dame_Lyons.pngWILHELM SINKOVICZ [Die Presse, 25 January 2008]

Oper. Aufregend, filmreif: Kirill Petrenko und Regisseur Peter Stein zeigen in Lyon den wahren Tschaikowsky.

Die Neuproduktion von „Eugen Onegin“ im Vorjahr war eine der schönsten, geschlossensten Opernaufführungen, die sich denken lassen. Nun haben der Dirigent Kirill Petrenko und Regisseur Peter Stein ihren Puschkin-Zyklus in Lyon mit „Pique Dame“ fortgesetzt und abgeschlossen, eine aufregende Aufführung, spannend wie ein Psychothriller und nur aufgrund zweier Umbesetzungen in letzter Minute nicht ganz auf jener atemberaubenden künstlerischen Höhe angesiedelt wie die märchenhafte Vorgängerproduktion.

Posted by Gary at 8:25 PM

The Master Class Continues

BY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun 25 January 2008]

Marilyn Horne's annual song series, known as The Song Continues, offers a cornucopia of events for the music lover but, with the press of time being relentless, one has to make choices. I opted for a Wednesday recital at Weill Hall because it included, among a program of rarities, a chance to experience a world premiere.

Posted by Gary at 8:15 PM

TRAETTA: Ippolito ed Aricia

Music composed by Tommaso Traetta. Libretto by Carlo Innocenzo Frugoni after Simon-Joseph Pellegrin’s Hippolyte et Aricie.

First Performance: 9 May 1759, Teatro Ducale, Parma

Principal Characters:
Theseus [Teseo], king of Athens Tenor
Hippolytus [Ippolito], son of Theseus Soprano/Castrato
Phaedra [Fedra], Theseus' wife, stepmother to Hippolytus Soprano
Oenone [Enone], nurse and confidante of Phaedra Soprano
Aricia, princess of the blood royal of Athens Soprano
Diana, a goddess Soprano

Synopsis of Phèdre by Jean Racine based on Hippolytus by Euripides and Phaedra by Seneca:

Act I

Theseus, king of Athens, has disappeared during one of his expeditions. Hippolytus tells Theramenes of his intention to search for his father. But this is not the real reason he wishes to leave Troezen, where the court has been in residence for some time. Neither does he desire to avoid the persecution of his stepmother, Phaedra. His only motive is to escape the charms of Aricia, the only survivor of the royal family who formerly ruled Athens. He is in love with her, and his father has forbidden her to marry.

Oenone, Phaedra's nurse, announces her mistress, but Hippolytus wishes to avoid an unpleasant meeting, and departs. The queen's behavior, and her conversation with Oenone, betray her incestuous and forbidden love for Hippolytus. She wishes for death, but the sudden announcement of Theseus' death puts a new complexion on things. Free to indulge her passion, she gives up her suicide plan in order to arrange an alliance with Hippolytus against Aricia, to preserve her own son's right to the throne of Athens.

Phedre_et_Hippolyte_Guerin.pngPhèdre et Hippolyte by Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1802)

Act II

Ismene, Aricia's confidante, announces Theseus' death to the young girl and in the same breath reveals her suspicion of Hippolytus' romantic feelings for Aricia. Incredulously the young girl listens to a revelation that enchants her, since she, in turn, has fallen in love with Hippolytus. Hippolytus soon confirms the confidante's speculation in a tender but awkward confession. The interview is interrupted by the announcement of Phaedra's arrival, but not before Aricia has timidly admitted her own feelings.

Phaedra comes in with the purported intention of pleading for her son. However, carried away by her passion, she forgets her original purpose and reveals her secret love. Crushed by Hippolytus' horrified reception of her declaration, she takes his sword to kill herself. As she rushes out, Theramenes comes in with a momentous rumor: Theseus may be alive. Hippolytus decides to investigate the rumor and to fight against Phaedra's claim to the throne and in defense of Aricia's rights.


Phaedra's confession has had an unexpected result. In spite of her humiliation, her hopes have been revived and she now urges a reluctant Oenone to plead her case with Hippolytus. However the situation changes drastically with the news of Theseus' return. At first Phaedra, panic-stricken, again threatens suicide, then yields to Oenone's perfidious plan to accuse Hippolytus of attempting to seduce her. When Theseus comes in, Phaedra departs with a cryptic hint. Hippolytus also leaves with a lame excuse.

Act IV

At the beginning of the scene, Oenone completes the slanderous accusation against Hippolytus introduced offstage. The credulous Theseus is completely deceived. When Hippolytus appears, Theseus wonders indignantly at his son's innocent appearance and greets him with immoderate accusations, culminating in a prayer to Neptune for revenge. Hippolytus, out of filial consideration, defends himself by pointing out his reputation for virtue and reminding Theseus of Phaedra's ancestry, and by confessing his love for Aricia. Theseus rejects the last argument as a mere ploy.

Phedre_et_Hippolyte_Guerin2.pngDetail from Phèdre et Hippolyte by Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1802)

Meanwhile, Phaedra, stricken by remorse, goes to see Theseus to plead for Hippolytus. But she changes her mind when Theseus unwittingly reveals to her that she has a successful rival. She becomes hysterical with jealously and rage. Finally, however, she repents and repudiates Oenone, the instigator and agent of her treachery.

Act V

Still refusing to clear his name, Hippolytus decides to flee but before leaving, arranges a rendezvous with Aricia so that they may wed. Immediately after his departure Theseus abruptly appears. In spite of her embarrassment, Aricia stands up to him and defends Hippolytus' innocence with such conviction that the king's certainty is shaken. He calls for Oenone and is even more deeply disturbed when a servant reveals Oenone's suicide and Phaedra's irrational behavior. Theseus, at last, is willing to reconsider his belief in his son's guilt, but it is too late. Theramenes comes in with the harrowing tale of Hippolytus' death. Phaedra arrives and clears Hippolytus, then dies of the effects of a poison she has taken earlier. Grief-stricken, Theseus vows to make full amends to his son's memory and to treat Aricia as his daughter. [Diana restores Hippolytus to life and reunites the couple.]*

[Synopsis Source: CliffsNotes]

Click here for the livret of Hippolyte & Aricie.

* Added by Pellegrin

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Phedre_et_Hippolyte_Guerin_.png image_description=Detail from Phèdre et Hippolyte by Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1802) audio=yes first_audio_name=Tommaso Traetta: Ippolito ed Aricia
WinAMP, VLC, FooBar first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Ippolito.m3u product=yes product_title=Tommaso Traetta: Ippolito ed Aricia product_by=Ippolito: Madeline Bender
Aricia: Patrizia Cioffi
Fedra: Laura Claycomb
Teseo: John McVeigh
Enone: Gaële Le Roi
Diana: Anne-Lise Sollied
Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset (cond.)
Live performance, 23 February 2001, Montpellier
Posted by Gary at 6:29 PM

January 25, 2008

New Lyric season plays it safe

chicago_lyric.png2008-09 schedule avoids risk, stays in mainstream

By John von Rhein [Chicago Tribune, 24 January 2008]

Change, that overworked buzz word of the political season, does not seem to have seeped very far into the artistic mindset of Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Posted by Gary at 10:37 AM

January 24, 2008

Wagner: Orchestral Hightlights from the Operas

With the veritable lexicons of motives that occur in his overtures and preludes, as well as thematic summaries in various interludes, the famous orchestral excerpts performed in concert communicate some aspects of the operas well. Yet under the baton of a solid Wagnerian likethe late Klaus Tennstedt, the music takes on added dimensions that convey the passionate expression found in the scores. This is already evident in the legacy of recordings that Tennstedt left, and this recently released DVD of a concert of the London Philharmonic on tour at Suntory Hall, Tokyo, on 18 October 1988, captures some of the dynamic aspects of the conductor on the podium.

While Tennstedt’s involvement with Wagner’s music is evident in the recordings that are already available, a concert video like this helps to document the artist interacting with his orchestra. Through a combination of shots that varying in size, this film shows the orchestra as a whole, various sections, and also close-ups of the conductor himself, in works Tennstedt was regarded highly as one of the finest interpreters of his time. As familiar as this music can be, a master like Tennstedt contributes nuance to the well-known overture to Wagner’s opera Tannhaüser with the subtle variations in tempo. At times the intensity emanates from the podium, with Tennstedt’s baton almost vibrating in his hands. Elsewhere, it is the facial expression that brings about the appropriate response, as in the evocative Bacchanale that follows the Overture in this concert. The fine sonics of this recording demonstrate the unified playing that Tennstedt did not demand, but drew out of the exceptional players of the London Philharmonic.

With an earlier work like Rienzi, the elements of grand opera emerge clearly in Tennstedt’s interpretation. Here the broad strokes are necessary, as the longer themes that Wagner used in this relatively early opera are stylistically removed from the idiom he would use in Tannhaüser or, later in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. With some of the longer note values and sustained pitches that are characteristic of Rienzi Tennstedt creates some tension that evoke the charged situations in the opera. Familiar in the concert hall, the overture to Rienzi receives a solid interpretation with Tennstedt, who makes the most of the score without overly emoting.

Yet it is in the excerpts from Wagner’s Ring der Nibelungen that Tennstedt seems to have been in his idiom, and the selections included in this concert represent his music-making very well. With “Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” and “Siegfried’s Funeral Music,” Tennstedt connotes the sense of the scene painting that is a crucial element in the opera Götterdämmerung, from which they are taken. While maintaining decorum, Tennstedt brings out an almost raucous jubilation that stands in contrast to the somber and intense tone of the “Funeral Music” that follows the hero’s murder. Here the London Philharmonic plays passionately while rendering the score with an almost classic precision.

After such intensive music, Tennstedt included two further selections, the overture to the comic opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and the final piece on the concert, the famous “Ride of the Valykyries” from Die Walküre. Well known as it is, the placement of the “Ride” at the end of the program precludes any kind of encore – what could possibly follow that would not be anticlimactic. And it is appropriate for the video to end with the visage of Tennstedt in freeze-frame, an image that remains in memory long after hearing this well-played concert of the London Philharmonic on tour in Japan. The liner notes include Tennstedt’s comment that he is not on the podium just to “beat time,” and the craft that he brought to his work as conductor is evident in this filmed concert.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, WI

image_description= Wagner: Orchestral Hightlights from the Operas

product_title= Wagner: Orchestral Hightlights from the Operas
product_by=London Philharmonic Orchestra. Klaus Tennstedt, conductor.
product_id= EMI Classics 0946 3 91008 9 7 [DVD]

Posted by jim_z at 1:37 PM

Turkmenistan ends ban on opera and circus

turkmenistan.png[Reuters, 21 January 2008]

ASHGABAT (Reuters) - Turkmenistan will end its seven-year ban on opera and the circus introduced by the Caspian nation's former eccentric leader, state media reported.

Posted by Gary at 1:23 PM

Italian opera on Gala

As with most of their sets, for the 1972 Turandot Gala offers the complete performance and then fills the second disc up with extracts from performances by one of the key singers from the title performance.

But Gala doesn’t follow this practice for the Attila, oddly enough, since it preserves a great performance from Samuel Ramey. The bonus cuts here go to well-known artists from the same era as those of the Attila. From performances under Claudio Abbado at La Scala in 1979, we hear Placido Domingo in Luisa Miller, and a trio of Don Carlos arias, featuring Yevgeny Nestrenko, Leo Nucci, and Katia Ricciarelli. Piero Cappucilli closes the CD with an elegant “Eri tu” from Un ballo en Maschera.

However, after hearing this rough but exciting Attila, closing the set with some more Ramey, or at least excerpts from other early or rare Verdi, would have been wonderful. Be that as it may, the opera has the benefit here of a fiery live performance, recorded in clean if not expansive sound. Ramey has the audience on his nasty Hun side from the beginning, and a raucous crowd demands a bis of “Oltre a quel limite t’attendo.” Some may regret the current state of the singer’s voice, but here the enveloping darkness of his bass is firm and yet flexible. Another American sings Odabella — Linda Roark Strummer. She has a wild, apparently huge voice. While not exactly refined, her lunging high notes and aggressive approach suit the character. Veriano Luchetti, as Foresto, brings a reliably vivid Italian tenor sound to the mix. William Stone is a capable if somewhat bland Ezio. The chorus and orchestra know the idiom and perform it with exuberant professionalism, under the baton of Gabriele Ferro.

Turandot_Gala.pngThe 1972 Turandot, recorded at the Teatro Petruzzelli, suffers from poor sound, with the source apparently being an audience member (if the occasional chatter is any clue). Often the singers seem to be caught in a stage position that allows the orchestra to cover their voices. In a few places the tapes seem to have deteriorated, leading to sudden jumps. At any rate, the performance, while decent, hardly suggests that the unsatisfactory sound is any tragedy. Gala gives star billing to Marion Lippert, a German soprano whose career eventually took her to a couple dozen performances at the Metropolitan Opera. The booklet essay quotes some reviews that praise her stage demeanor in the role, which obviously cannot be evaluated in this recording. Although not uncomfortable with the role’s challenges, she brings little that is individual. Flaviano Labó ducks a couple of optional high notes, but he sings a handsome, manly Calaf. Lydia Marimpietri earns the usual happy applause for Liu’s melodic, sad arias. She is fine, but the applause really should go to the composer. With the sound in its lamentable state, making judgments about Napoleone Annovazzi and the theater orchestra would be unfair.

Fedora_Gala.pngSurprisingly, the audio on the 1931 La Scala Fedora prompts no complaints, especially after that Turandot. This is not a live recording, but the notes do not establish a provenance. Within a few seconds of the opera’s beginning, the ears adjust to the limited spectrum, although at places greater orchestral detail would be desired. That is due to the naturalness and devotion conductor Lorenzo Molajoli brings to Giordano’s score. Fedora at this date seems unlikely to ever attain a firm place in the repertory, but heard here, it is possible to understand that at one time, it seemed to have earned that distinction. A short opera with a confusing, unconvincing libretto, it needs performers who truly believe in it. There is true “golden age” glamour in the singing of Gilda dalla Rizza, the Fedora whose revenge for her fiance’s death leads to her own suicide when she realizes she has destroyed the loved ones of the killer she has come to love. A tight vibrato and crisp enunciation give her performance a conversational quality, although she certainly lets fly with some passionate outbursts. The heart of the opera, a long duet in act two, finds her well-matched with the Loris of Antonio Melandri. He gives out almost as many sobs as he does ringing high notes, but in the red-blooded context of this opera, his handsome voice can be excused some excess.

The conclusion of Fedora takes up fewer that 15 minutes of the second disc. Once again, in filling out the side Gala wanders away from the stars of the main opera. Here the star becomes Lina Brusa-Rasa (although she gets no mention in the booklet, which does contain an admirably dense and detailed synopsis of Fedora, by Andrew Palmer). Lengthy highlights from an Andrea Chenier, also from La Scala in 1931, have the unfortunate effect of making the preceding Fedora seem even slighter. Bruna-Rasa is authoritative and affecting, and well-partnered by Luigi Marini as Chénier and Carlo Galeffi as Gérard. The lovers’ final duet might be worth the price of the set for some — urgently paced and thrillingly sung. After that, Gala still has room for arias from Mefistofele, Aida (actually the third act duet with the Amonasro of Galeffi), Cavalleria Rusticana, Manon Lescaut, and Tosca. Bruna-Rasa sings them all with both passion and taste, her very womanly tone mature only in the sense of ripeness and security.

So the Attila and Fedora earn recommendations to anyone interested in the operas or the singers. The Turandot would only find favor with any fans of Marion Lippert.

Chris Mullins

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Attila_Gala.png image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: Attila product=yes product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Attila product_by=Samuel Ramey; William Stone; Linda Roark Strummer; Veriano Luchetti; Aldo Bottion; Giovanni Antonini, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro ‘La Fenice’, Gabriele Ferro (cond.)
Live recording: Venice, January 23, 1987. product_id=Gala 779 [2CDs] price=$12.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=146150
Posted by Gary at 12:45 PM

January 22, 2008

Torvaldo e Dorliska now on DVD

Torvaldo.pngIt is not often an opera goer gets to revisit a fondly remembered performance hoping the praiseworthy first impressions still ring true. Fortunately, the solid musical and dramatic values from the Rossini Opera Festival’s production of Torvaldo e Dorliska are still very much alive on this recently issued DVD taped in August 2006.

Posted by Gary at 10:00 AM

Echo de Paris: Parisian Love Songs 1610-1660

However, this may ultimately veil the reality that in cosmopolitan centers such as Paris, musicians of diverse nationalities were active and the range of styles “polyglot.” This diversity is one of the more prominent features of the excellent anthology, Echo de Paris: Parisian Love Songs 1610-1660. There are certainly the expected airs de cour by composers such as Pierre Guédron and Michel Lambert, and these strophic airs themselves are diverse: some are intimate and languorous, others show the clear influence of the dance. But there are also Spanish songs by the Frenchman Etienne Moulinié and Italian songs by visiting Italians Luigi Rossi and Francesco Cavalli. And underscoring the diversity is the large number of instrumental pieces here, much of which proceeds in Italian and Spanish accents.

The performances are superb. The Belgian tenor, Stephan van Dyck, sings with a free and beautifully natural sound, the forward placement of which makes the intimate scale especially effective. He has declamatory agility, as well, as in Moulinié’s “O Stelle homicide,” and he handles his ornamental graces deftly and with stylistic ease. Private Musicke—for this recording an ensemble of guitars, viols, lutes, and colascione—are wonderfully engaging in the “expatriate” music of the Italian guitarist, Giovanni Paolo Foscarini; their red-blooded rendition of his “Folia” is irresistibly brilliant, as is their imaginative, swinging performance of Luis de Briceno’s “Caravanda Ciacona.” Rhythmic verve of the highest order! But Private Musicke’s collaborative work in the vocal pieces is also unusually good. In Cavalli’s “Lamento di Apollo,” a moving lament with the expected ground bass propensities, the ensemble accompaniment is dramatically fluid and highly textured—quite memorably so—in ways that take one to the heart of spontaneous music making.

Echo de Paris may not give you exactly what you expect in an anthology subtitled Parisian Love Songs. With its rich array of national styles and instrumental pieces, it gives you much more, indeed, and all of it performed with a consummate sense of grace and flair. Musical cosmopolitanism at its best!

Steven Plank

image_description=Echo de Paris

product_title=Echo De Paris — Parisian Love Songs 1610-1660
product_by=Stephan van Dyck, Private Musicke, Pierre Pitzl (cond.)
product_id=Accent ACC 24173

Posted by steve_p at 9:01 AM

January 21, 2008

MAHLER: Symphonies 1-10

Recorded over two decades between 1984 and 2004, this set includes all ten of Mahler’s numbered symphonies, as well as the three-movement, original version of his youthful cantata Das klagende Lied and the late symphonic song-cycle Das Lied von der Erde, as well a selection of eight orchestral Wunderhornlieder. (Of the Wunderhornlieder, the set includes Der Schildwache Nachtlied; Verlor'ne Müh'; Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht?; Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen; Revelge; Der Tamboursg'sell; Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt; and Ablösung im Sommer.) In addition, EMI includes a bonus track of Rattle’s 1995 performance of Der Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde from a live performance with the mezzo-soprano Anne-Sofie von Otter.

Those familiar with Rattle’s recordings of Mahler’s works will find no surprises in this collection, but the convenience of having all of the works in a single place is welcome, especially with the set priced lower than the individual releases. With such a specialist as Rattle, the collection makes it possible to appreciate the consistent precision and well-considered phrasing that the conductor brought to his interpretations of Mahler’s music. It is an impressive accomplishment that helped earn Rattle international recognition, especially with his recordings of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which was less than familiar when he began the cycle. With such a successful recording as the Second Symphony, which was released in 1987 (and remains available as a single release), Rattle became known as a formidable interpreter of Mahler’s music.

In recording Mahler’s works Rattle made some choices that distinguish this set from others. He opted to record the original, three-movement version of Das klagende Lied, rather than Mahler’s revised version in two parts. With Das Lied von der Erde, his well-known recording with Peter Seiffert (tenor) and Thomas Hampson (baritone) is part of this set, with the use of two male singers the voicing, rather than the more typical use of mezzo soprano or contralto, and tenor. Yet his inclusion of Der Abschied with Anne-Sofie von Otter is welcome, and enthusiasts of Rattle’s Mahler recordings should appreciate its presence in this set.

Of Rattle’s recordings with EMI, several stand out in the modern discography of Mahler’s music, such as his interpretation of the Second Symphony, a solid reading with soloists Arlene Auger and Janet Baker, which was recorded in 1986. That particular release stands out among recent recordings for the attention Rattle gave to the details of score, including the nicely placed off-stage musicians that augment the soundscape. In addition, Rattle’s recording of Deryck Cooke’s performing version of Mahler’s unfinished Tenth Symphony has been well received, and it offers a solid reading of the torso.

While some quibble, at times, with Rattle’s interpretations, the consistent pacing that he conductor brings to each piece allows the score to be heard clearly and without some of the interpretative excesses that characterize other conductors. With the opportunity to review the body of Mahler’s symphonic works in Rattle’s hands, his faithfulness to the score emerges readily in all these recordings, most of which derive from live performances (as noted in the very useful program book included in the set). Rattle offers clear distinctions of tempo, as found at the beginning of the first movement of the Fourth Symphony, where the bells, Mahler’s erstwhile Schellenkappe, are, perhaps, slower than occurs in conventional recordings. Yet such deliberation sets up the quicker tempo that distinguishes the introductory bars from the principal theme and allows the reprise of the opening bars to serve as a transition when it recurs within the movement. At the same time, Rattle’s approaches Mahler’s shifting palette of orchestration with a sense of continuity that removes the pointillistic effects found in the notation itself. Again, the main theme of the first movement of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony is an excellent example of such timbral shifts, with the idea moving from the violins to the horns, back to the violins, then the flute and oboe, and the low strings, before resuming in the violins. This attention to the rendering the score is apparent in this movement and throughout the other recordings included in the set.

A similar approach occurs in Rattle’s interpretation of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, which benefits from the fine playing of the Berlin Philharmonic with a work that ensemble has performed well under other fine conductors. As in other performances of Mahler’s music, Rattle’s pacing allows the discrete sections of movements to emerge clearly, and this is apparent in the Scherzo of the Fifth Symphony. While some might quibble with the some of the relatively slower tempos that result, the reading is clear and distinct, such that the accelerandos, when they occur, never distort the music ideas that they support.

With music that is more motivically connected, like the first movement of the Seventh Symphony, Rattle’s approach is effective in discriminating between the thematic content and the various secondary ideas that support it. His reading of the transition from the ending the introduction of the first movement of the Seventh to the beginning of its exposition is notable in this regard. As the movement continues, the fluid tempos are useful in characterizing the thematic groups that Mahler develops in increasingly intricate ways, and Rattle offers a convincing sense of the structure. Yet the telling point of any performance of the Seventh is the Rondo-Finale, and the recording is compelling from the start. The vibrant opening helps to propel the movement forward. While Rattle sets the various episodes apart with distinct shadings and nuances of tempo, the recurring refrain never flags. This allows Rattle to maintain the tension throughout the movement, with the final section offering a dramatic conclusion. The balance between brass and strings, a contrast that is characteristic of this movement, works well in retaining the details in the strings, while never allowing the brass to become the sole orchestral timbre. The energy never flags, and the Coda of the movement retains the fresh and exciting style with which it opened. While some of the other recordings do not include it, the applause at the end helps to confirm the excitement Rattle created in this performance.

In recording the entire cycle of Mahler’s symphonic works. Rattle worked with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, except for three works: for Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and Deryck Cooke’s score for the Tenth, Rattle led the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; and Mahler’s Ninth Symphony is with the Vienna Philharmonic, the ensemble associated with the premiere of the work. As to the soloists, the recordings included some of the finest singers available during the 1980s and 1990s. Late in their careers, Janet Baker and Arleen Auger were involved with Rattle’s impressive recording of Mahler’s Second “Resurrection” Symphony, and their contributions help to set that performance apart from others. For the Third Symphony, Birgit Remmert is the soloist, with Amanda Roocroft for the Fourth; and Simon Keenlyside sings the selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The relatively recent (2004) recording of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony involves a remarkable international ensemble with Christine Brewer, Solie Isokoski, Juliane Banse, Birgit Remmert, Jane Henschel, Jon Villars, David Wilson-Johnson, and John Relyea. With the latter work, one of the latest ones in the set to be recorded, the quality of the soloists alone attests to the level of performers Rattle attracted in his explorations of Mahler’s music.

Those familiar with Rattle’s recordings of Mahler’s works will find this set to be a useful compilation of the entire set, and anyone who has not yet encountered Rattle in this venue will find much of interest. Released over two decades, Rattle did not operate under any kind of artificial timeframes that forced him to record the works in any particular order. While ten years separate the release of the Second and Third Symphonies, both recordings are convincing for the details that Rattle brought into each of them. Likewise, while one would expect the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra to perform all of Mahler’s works well under Rattle’s direction, the set benefits from the Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic, which bear the conductor’s careful attention in their respective recordings.

As a set of Mahler’s symphonic works, this collection is quite attractive, and enthusiasts will want to have both Rattle’s set and the other one that EMI offers, the set of earlier recordings conducted by Gary Bertini. With Rattle’s set, though, some further documentation in the accompanying booklet would be welcome. In addition to the details about each performance, including recording dates and other details about the various sessions, the booklet includes transcriptions of Mahler’s sung texts in German, French, and English (for the hymn “Veni, creator spiritus,” the booklet includes the Latin text, with translations into the three modern languages).

Yet some details bear further explication. As laudable as it is to include the “Blumine” movement with the recording of the First Symphony, its placement as the first track of the work – even with Roman numerals indicating the order of the revised, four-movement version of the Symphony – bears further explanation. While the notes identify Das klagende Lied as the original version (in three movements), it would be useful to confirm that the recording of the First Symphony is indeed the revised version, with only “Blumine” stemming from the earlier form of the work. As to other details, the recording of the Sixth Symphony, which was made in 1989, follows the movement order as Mahler revised it, with the Andante preceding the Scherzo. While much has been made about the movement order among some Mahlerians, Rattle’s decision makes musical sense, and follows the tradition that dates to the premiere of the work.

At another level, the tracking of some of the more complex movements, like the Finale of the Second Symphony and both parts of the Eighth, is quite useful. Yet such a details approached to the tracking of the other movements would be useful, since it would not interrupt the flow of each performance. Such a detail would contribute to the set, which is otherwise quite fine. Of the modern recordings of the entire corpus of Mahler’s symphonies, this set is an essential one. With Rattle’s consistently solid interpretations, fine sound, and excellent playing, this set of Mahler’s symphonies will stand as a touchstone for years to come. Rattle is one of the finest interpreters of Mahler’s works, and this set stands as testimony of his accomplishments with this continually fascinating set of works that remain attractive to yet another generation of listeners. With this set Rattle has made an important contribution to the discography of Mahler’s music.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, WI

image_description=Gustav Mahler: Symphonies 1-10

product_title-Gustav Mahler: Symphonies 1-10
product_by=Sir Simon Rattle, conductor.
product_id=EMI Classics 50999 5 00721 2 5 [14CDs]

Posted by jim_z at 1:13 PM

WAGNER: Parsifal

What may startle younger viewers accustomed to the contemporary shock-jock taste of German opera staging will be the reminder of how recent that all-conquering trend is: As late as the ’80s, Bayreuth would give you a forest and a temple where a forest and a temple were called for, a chorus of knights taking holy communion in that scene (by turns, those not singing are communing), with costumes of an almost embarrassing faux medievality in unsubtle, stained-glass reds and blues. Is this 1981 or a misprint for 1881, you may wonder — though as Parsifal had its world premiere in 1882, the answer to that should be obvious. This is a Parsifal very much aware of itself as Wagner’s apotheosis of the medieval religious ritual drama — there is no attempt at realism — higher matters are on the minds of everyone concerned.

Whether Wagner’s Gothic-revival religiosity appeals to you is not exactly the point; this production is not intended to convert but, like a medieval passion play, to proclaim mystical truths to those already converted. If you believe Wagner’s philosophic/religious mysticism takes a backseat to his musical achievement, you will have no difficulty enjoying this Parsifal. If Wagner’s mucking about with race and sacramental blood and sexual wounds gives you the willies, Parsifal is probably not for you in any case.

The set for the forest is a Klimtian forest; the Temple of the Grail five stage-high columns, curved to imply the ribs of a dome, curiously echoed in some rather threatening structures in Klingsor’s garden — as though to imply that Klingsor is attempting to create a sacrilegious parody of the Temple. The Grail manifests magically enough (though its glowing ruby heart is too obviously an electrical stage trick and would profit from distance) and the costumes make grand stage pictures from far off. None of the choral singers are individuals in this story anyway; they represent an archetypal mob, a backdrop to the symbolic drama in the foreground.

The acting of the principals in that foreground is stately and superb: either they, or the director, has put them through the meaning of every phrase of the libretto. The one unfortunate thing about director Brian Large’s fondness for close-ups is that we can see dry, empty hands when Kundry washes Parsifal’s feet and he baptizes her, also when Gurnemanz anoints him king of the Grail. We can also see that Randova has not bothered to make herself appear eldritch in Act I — which makes it difficult to understand why Amfortas and Gurnemanz do not recognize her as Klingsor’s houri, and why Parsifal does not know her when he meets her in Klingsor’s garden. Nor does she bother to die at the end of the show, though otherwise she follows Wagner’s careful directions in fixing her attention.

Horst Stein’s measured pace is most fulfilling: we are given a leisured march through this living ritual dream of a score, and tension arises through musical not active means. The singing is of a consistently high quality. What Siegfried Jerusalem lacked in sheer power as a heldentenor (and at Bayreuth, and in this kinder role, did not need), he makes up in thoughtful acting and phrasing: he is a puzzled seeker, not so frolicsome as many a Parsifal is played, but pensive from the first, a fool in his slow understanding but a mystic in his determination to make sense of what he sees and hears. The discovery of human pain and guilt that comes to him in Kundry’s kiss intensifies an awareness that was already present, lurking beneath the surface, and comes out in the final scene as Amfortas’s agonized face smooths itself out, and both agony and crown are transferred to the new Grail-king. (I also liked the touch of his having grown a beard between Acts II and III — and that it is already graying with his comprehension of the world.)

Randova, for whom Kundry was a signature role, sings with a luscious but little-varied tone in the long scene of attempted seduction. Hans Sotin is a Gurnemanz who reveals a temper even as he holds it in check, talking with the pages or with the nameless swan-killing youth or, sternly, to the mysterious knight (in, admittedly, a weird late-nineteenth century version of a Moorish caftan) who appears with a spear on Good Friday, but he always sings with majestic power. Wolfgang Brendel is more internally wracked than hysterical as Amfortas — indeed, that internality is a quality of all the characters in this staging: they are not so much wrestling with each other as with their own souls and internal demons. The well-named Leif Roar (did he ever sing with Peter Schreier?) scowls visibly and vocally as a human, rather than demonic, Klingsor. In terms of luxe casting, giving Titurel to Matti Salminen makes one gasp.

As ever with old Bayreuth recordings (or programs), it is entertaining to ponder where great careers began and led: Hanna Schwarz, a splendid singing actress who would win world-fame as the Fricka of Chereau’s Bayreuth Centennial Ring two years later, sings a page, a flower maiden and the Voice from Above in these performances; Toni Krämer, who would become a dull but competent Siegfried, is a Grail Knight.

John Yohalem

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Parsifal_Stein.png image_description=Richard Wagner: Parsifal product=yes product_title=Richard Wagner: Parsifal product_by=Eva Randova (Kundry), Siegfried Jerusalem (Parsifal), Bernd Weikl (Amfortas), Leif Roar (Klingsor), Hans Sotin (Gurnemanz), Matti Salminen (Titurel). Chorus and Orchestra of the Bayreuth Festival, conducted by Horst Stein. Production by Wolfgang Wagner. Video director Brian Large. Bayreuth Festival June-July 1981. product_id=Deutsche Grammophon 073 4328 [2DVDs] price=$45.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=12732&name_role1=1&comp_id=3426&genre=33&bcorder=195&name_id=56968&name_role=3
Posted by Gary at 12:55 PM

January 20, 2008

Historic opera performances in Russian on Gala

Perhaps this trend died away with the greater ease of jet travel, or in a recoil from the ultra-nationalism which produced devastating wars. It certainly took a long time for Germany to begin offering, say, Verdi in Italian.

The trade-off is imperfect, however, as most singers sound their best singing in languages they are truly comfortable with. And what greater comfort than one's mother tongue? So three recent Gala releases of mid-twentieth century radio performances from Moscow of Italian and French repertory sung in Russian may at first seem like mere curiosities. Actually listening, however, may develop converts to the older style. Though initially the sharp, brusque sound of Russian may seem all wrong for Rossini or Delibes, the great singers captured here know their roles, and though these are not live performances, the sense of immediacy is palpable.

All the sets find room for extra tracks dedicated to one significant performer in each opera. Unsurprisingly, the Il Barbiere di Siviglia, recorded in 1953, focuses on the estimable tenor Ivan Kozlovsky. Besides his Almaviva in the opera, we also get on disc two his Gounod Romeo and in a particularly rare treat, a vocal version of Tchaikovsky dramatic overture to the Shakespeare tragedy, both sung with Yelisaveta Shumskaya's Juliet. Kozlovsky, in his early 50s at the time of the recording, retains his amazing upward extension, and ample evidence of that comes early in "Ecco ridente." Although all the recordings have decent sound, the hollow acoustic of the radio studio doesn't allow the tenor's tone to bloom, and it isn't always pleasing. But his technique still prompts respect.

The Figaro, Ivan Burlak, sings a rough but enjoyable "Largo al factotum." Vera Firsova's Rosina won't develop easily into the mopey countess of Mozart's Nozze. Her feisty, yet sweet, voice made your reviewer think of a Russian Victoria de los Angeles. In the singing lesson she performs a strong "Bel raggio lusinghier" from Semiramide. The great bass Mark Reizen growls humorously in a delightful "La Calumnia." The booklet essay, by the way, only provides biographies of Kozlovsky and Reizen, along with a brief synopsis of the plot and a few lines on the opera's premiere. Track listings for all three sets discussed in this review appear in the libretto's original language.

Italiana_Gala.pngBoth the Barbiere and the L'Italiana in Algeri feature a clunky piano to accompany the recitatives. Although the cast is less familiar, the L'Italiana comes across as just as fun. Gala's chosen focus here is Zara Dolukhanova, with the entire booklet essay providing information on her career. In the bonus tracks, she offers a darker but still passionate Rosina for "Una voce poco fa." Two strong excerpts from Semiramide suggest that if the complete performance exists, it should be released. Her Russian version of Meyerbeer's "Nobles seigneurs salut!" from Les Huguenots confirms what her Isabella in the main performance demonstrated: she could move that creamy voice as smoothly and quickly as required. Her supporting cast delivers solid performances, with the tenor, identified as "A. Nikitin," being overshadowed by his counterparts on the other sets.

Lakme_Gala.pngThe third set leaves Rossini for Delibes's Lakme. The famous duet, "Viens, Malika," goes at a surprisingly snappy pace for Nadezhda Kazantseva, singing the title role, and Anna Maliuta. Kazantseva doesn't sparkle as some sopranos have done in the "Air des clochettes," though she has the notes. By the end of the set, a lack of variety in her tone has taken some of the exotic charm from her Lakme. Gala's choice for the spotlight here is the Gerard, tenor Sergei Lemeshev. He has more honey in his voice than Kozlovsky, but less individuality. The bonus tracks have sharper sound than the just adequate 1946 recording of the Delibes opera. Lemeshev's slight vibrato is loosening a bit in these tracks, though he sings a touching "Elle ne croyait pas" from Thomas's Mignon.

Considering the modest price Gala charges for its amply-filled sets, lovers of opera who want to explore the riches of a lost world of traditional opera performance should look for these sets. And Gala would do well to issue more, if more are to be found.

Chris Mullins

image_description=Gioacchino Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Sung in Russian)

product_title=Gioacchino Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Sung in Russian)
product_by=Ivan Burlak; Vera Firsova; Ivan Kozlovsky; Vladimir Malishev; Mark Reizen; Mihail Skazin; Nina Ostroumova; Ivan Manshavin, Chorus of the Moscow Radio; Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, Samuel Samosud (cond.).Live recording: Moscow, 1953
product_id=Gala 768 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 5:51 PM

Deutsche Grammophon budget opera sets

The theme seems to be iconic imagery in realistic photographs. For the fine Claudio Abbado-led La Cenerentola, the cover features a young washerwoman with wooden bucket and straw broom. She looks sad - hasn't anyone noticed her short skirt and cleavage-exposing blouse? Thankfully no model had to risk her life by posing amid the flaming pile of sticks for the Il Trovatore set.

Well, if such artwork catches the eyes of potential customers, their ears will be further rewarded with the performances contained in these sets. Abbado's elegant Cenerentola stars Teresa Berganza, who can sing sadly with great sweetness. When her big moment comes at the end of the opera, Berganza marries solid technique to refined joy. The bravura excitement of Cecilia Bartoli may be missed by some, but the Bartoli set, to the extent it is still available, remains at full price. Neither Bartoli nor Berganza have star tenors for the role of Don Ramiro, which has been sung with such beauty by Juan-Diego Florez, among current tenors. Luigi Alva on this 1971 DG set, while displaying command of the idiom, lacks tonal beauty. Paolo Montarsolo blusters as Don Magnifico, a character not easy to take on a recording. Renato Capecchi's Dandini slithers in and out of ensembles with appropriate slickness. The London Symphony orchestra and Scottish Opera Chorus make up for any perceived lack of Italian warmth with precision and style.

DG_Trovatore.pngMore than Italian warmth, fire burns through the Tullio Serafin Trovatore set. The cast listing in the booklet puts Ettore Bastianini's Conte di Luna first, and why not? His portrayal rages and aches with a passion that makes him much more than just the baritone villain. The "Il balen" alone makes this set precious, with gorgeous tone and supple, long-breathed lines. Sparks to light more than a few pyres fly when Bastianini meets the Azucena of Fiorenza Cossotto, near the start of her international career (the recording dates from 1962). Demonic in her low notes and fierce when she reaches high, she dominates the performance as only a truly great Azucena can.

The ostensible leads both give worthy performances, if ultimately outshone by both the stars mentioned above in this recording, and by other singers in their roles on other versions. Antonietta Stella's lovely soprano sometimes threatens to spread at the end of long lines or high-flying passages. Ultimately her very feminine sound carries her through. Carlo Bergonzi gives a more bel canto reading of Manrico than is typical. The character is a troubadour, after all, and Bergonzi makes it clear that Manrico can sing quite beautifully. He does fire up the engines for "Di quella pira," with an understandable if amusing delay before firing off the climatic high note at the aria's end.

Serafin proves again his mastery of Verdi, and the chorus and orchestra of La Scala perform with their expected conviction. The overly bright recording, however, lacks any sense of dramatic space.

Both sets come with detailed track listings that include plot summaries of the action at key moments, in English, French and German. Your reviewer could find no word of a link to an online libretto in the booklet. So these sets can be best recommended to opera fans who already own sets with more complete packaging. Both offer ample musical reasons for adding them to any collection.

Chris Mullins

image_description=Gioacchino Rossini: La Cenerentola

product_title=Gioacchino Rossini: La Cenerentola
product_by=Berganza, Guglielmi, Zannini, Alva, Capecchi, Montarsolo, Trama, Scottish Opera Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, Claudio Abbado (cond.)
product_id=Deutsche Grammophon 477 5659 [2CDs]

Posted by Gary at 5:12 PM

STRAUSS: Der Rosenkavalier

Carlos Kleiber, in a live stage recording, fronts a top-notch ensemble in a gorgeous staging that seamlessly weds the rollicking humor to misty-eyed sentimentality and romance.

The 2004 Salzburg Festival Rosenkavalier, directed by Robert Carsen, takes its place at a very distant and frigid polar extreme from the warmth of those earlier incarnations. Sets and costumes boast as much expensive extravagance, but in the service of a concept that seems to originate in a loathing of the characters and the story. As Gottfried Kraus's excellent booklet essay relates (as translated by Stewart Spencer), Carsen and set designer Peter Pabst place the opera in "the decadent, valedictory atmosphere of the dying Hapsburg monarchy."

For act one, the long Salzburg stage is split into three rooms, with servants traipsing through. The realization impresses visually, but it also puts a distance between the characters. Act two takes place in the Faninal's dining hall, with most of the action played before an extended table that could seat dozens and dozens of guests. In a touch more out of a Zefferelli production, Octavian makes his entrance on a steed. After that equine interpolation, the setting quickly returns to its austere dictates. Act three is not just a disreputable inn, but a house of prostitution, with much nudity and even simulated copulation. The innkeeper is a drag queen. Now, why would Baron Ochs's proposed seduction of a maidservant, before his marriage, so shock people who cavort in such an establishment? No matter. By this point, the staging is not about the characters anymore, and more a picture of a dissolute, arrogant society. Carsen caps this off by using an adult Mohammed, then finishing the evening with the appearance of a severe man in military get-up - the Field Marshall himself? The luscious haze of the trio and sparkle of Mohammed's music is poisonously clouded by the image.

Act two, somewhat surprisingly, comes off best, with Franz Hawlata really hitting his comic stride. Adrianne Pieczonka never really gets to settle into the regal self-involvement of the Marschallin. Angelika Kirchshlager remains a mostly feminine Octavian throughout, especially in her reverse "drag" appearance in act three, where she is directed to act as a slut whose prim objections to the Baron's seduction are clearly only perfunctory. Miah Perrson, even in this unconventional staging, remains a conventional Sophie. In his brief appearance, Piotr Beczala brings handsome tone even to the high-lying passages of the Italian Singer's aria.

Semyon Bychkov leads the orchestra in a sharp, if unsubtle, reading of the score. Carsen's Rosenkavalier, then, turns the opera's chuckles into grim snorts, and its romance into transparent delusion. While stunning to look at it many ways, the production is very far from a pretty one. If that is the kind of Rosenkavalier any Opera Today reader has been awaiting - the wait is over.

Chris Mullins

image_description=Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier

product_title=Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier
product_by=Adrianne Pieczonka, Angelika Kirchschlager, Franz Hawlata, Franz Grundheber, Miah Persson, Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Wiener Philharmoniker, Semyon Bychkov, conductor. Robert Carsen, stage director, Recorded during the 2004 Salzburger Festspiele.
product_id=TDK DVWW-OPROKA [2DVDs]

Posted by Gary at 4:52 PM

Die Walküre at the Met

A dearth of major Wagnerian voices might be, has been, blamed … but other companies do better … or so it seems to us New York Wagnerians.

The current revival of Die Walküre, always the most popular of the Ring operas, is impressively satisfying: none of the singers are bad, some of them are great, only one of them is even stout (Stephanie Blythe, who, however, sings like the goddess she plays and moves in a stately, never clumsy, manner), while an unfamiliar hand on the podium brings out some unfamiliar colors from the depths of this shimmering score.

The weakest link in the cast was Clifton Forbis, the Siegmund — his gravelly, forced quality, an ill-supported top, no lyricism in the “Winterstürme,” all made this a woeful Wehwalt. The only time he sang with much power was the cry of “Walse! Walse!” — something about this shout seemed to align his throat properly for the first — and last — time all night. In rather striking contrast, Adrianne Pieczonka, a slim, girlish Sieglinde, sang with a full tone a bit beyond complete control, and was underpowered only in the “triumph of woman” explosion in Act III. She might be starting on the road to a major interpretation; Forbis, however, seems simply miscast.

James Morris had a Mozart and bel canto background when he first essayed Wotan twenty years ago — and was then widely expected to fail. Instead, he thrilled all ears, and he has owned the part ever since. (Could his bel canto experience be responsible?) Wobbles in his Hans Sachs last year made me wonder if his Valhalla sun had set, but he was in fine voice during the second performance of the run of Walküres, a little dryer than the lustrous hue of old, no doubt, but wobble-free, in command of the full range of notes and dynamics, and an experienced actor of this figure who attains tragic stature through tardy self-knowledge.

Lisa Gasteen, a star of Rings from London to Vienna to Adelaide, made her first essay at the title role of this opera in New York. She sang, it was announced, with a sore throat, and one would like to credit that for the general weakness of her voice above the staff that began with her first war-cry and continued to the end of the night. But Wagner was not a high-note composer, and the rest of her voice was lovely, beautifully produced, full of deep emotion.

Walkure-_scene_Pieczonka___.pngA scene from Wagner's “Die Walküre” with Adrianne Pieczonka as Sieglinde and Clifton Forbis as Siegmund.

She also cuts a handsome figure and bounds about the rocky sets with youthful athleticism, as a hard-riding warrior goddess ought to — but how many do? In the orchestra, I had doubts about the size of the voice when it came to filling the Met, and friends who sat upstairs shared them, but this was an honorable attempt that gave much pleasure. If her health on Monday is not the reason for her weak top, however, she is hardly the woman to sing the higher Brünnhilde of Siegfried. This experience of her made one interested in hearing her under optimum circumstances and in many roles. (A revival of Frau ohne Schatten would suit her nicely — she’s sung both soprano leads in Germany.)

Walkure-_scene_0086.pngA scene from Wagner's “Die Walküre” with (from left) James Morris as Wotan, Stephanie Blythe as Fricka, and Lisa Gasteen as Brünnhilde

Among the smaller roles, Mikhail Petrenko was especially striking — joining the lengthy list of Hundings whom one wishes had more to do, or big juicy roles in something else in the very near future. (Whatever became of Stephen Milling?) Kelly Cae Hogan, a singer new to me, was first off the mark among the valkyries, and one wished her war-cry, clear and focused and bright, had somehow been substituted for Gasteen’s cautious one; the rest of the gang were also happy choices.

The stage direction seemed to have been tightened, and was especially well synchronized at such tricky moments as Siegmund’s death (and Sieglinde’s flight) and the valkyrie ensembles. The diction all around was exceptional, precise without being intrusive. Lighting for this production seems to be getting steadily dimmer — which makes things like the magic fire all the more effective.

Lorin Maazel’s approach to Wagner was vivid and the pace snappier than we are used to, which rather heightened the excitement of a happy occasion. As at every great Wagner performance, one heard things, instrumental colors, one had never noticed before. Consider, for instance, Wagner’s use of kettledrums for everything but beating time: enhancing this, emphasizing that, pointing words or other instruments, a sudden insertion of ominous texture in the midst of a leitmotiv associated with things not ominous — insofar as anything in the Ring is free from shadow.

John Yohalem

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Walkure-_Pieczonka___Forbis.png image_description= product=yes product_title=Richard Wagner: Die Walküre product_by=Brünnhilde: Lisa Gasteen; Sieglinde: Adrianne Pieczonka; Fricka: Stephanie Blythe; Siegmund: Clifton Forbis; Wotan: James Morris; Hunding: Mikhail Petrenko.
Metropolitan Opera: conducted by Lorin Maazel. Performance of January 14. product_id=Above: Adrianne Pieczonka (Sieglinde) and Clifton Forbis (Siegmund)
All photos by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera
Posted by Gary at 4:34 PM

Lamentazioni per la Settimana Santa

The birth and development of the oratorio, for instance, is a rich example of this, with Roman prayer halls harnessing contemporary theatrical music to evangelical ends. And certain liturgical contexts also seemed to invite modern expressive touches. The triduum sacrum, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Holy Week, is a case in point; Tenebrae, the Office of Matins for these days, focuses on the poignant texts of the Lamentations of Jeremiah , the affective extremes of which were very well suited to the stile moderno. Much as the operatic lament became popular in the seventeenth century for its affective depth, so too did settings of the Lessons of Tenebrae.

The recording Lamentazioni per la Settimana Santa features a composite of Tenebrae settings by Roman composers, such as Carissimi, Frescobaldi, and Giovanni Francesco Marcorelli, all preserved in a single Bolognese manuscript (Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale Q 43). Much of the music is recitative in character, some of it evocative of chant, though the Hebrew letters that preface the scriptural passages are often sublimely lyrical. And on occasion, the treatment of specific words will elicit a madrigalian touch. Carissimi’s music here is somewhat restrained and controlled; Marcorelli’s language is more extravagant in its musical rhetoric and expressive idiom; but all of the settings manifest the close synergy of affection and music that was fundamental to the new musical style. The settings then are intensely expressive, though rarely expansive. One exception might be one of the anonymous works where the Hebrew letters, instead of only prefacing the verses, come back internally as ritornelli, allowing for a more developed landscape.

The performances are impressive, rich in style and sensuous sound. Soprano Maria Cristina Kiehr sings with notable flexibility and pliancy—the wafting taper of some of her notes is simply stunning—and her tone quality seems almost paradoxically to be both pure and rich in body at the same time, somewhat reminiscent of the Spanish soprano, Montserrat Figueras. The contributions of Concerto Soave, a continuo ensemble of viol, harp, lute, lirone, and claviorganum, are strong. Certainly the richness of the sound owes much to the instrumental palette. And the accompaniment of the lirone—a bowed viol played chordal—is simply sublime. The size and variety of the ensemble allow for a number of different configurations, an “orchestrational” opportunity that is used to good effect here, as well.

The recording includes several instrumental pieces, democratically featuring the different players of keyboard, harp, lute, and viol. The keyboard “interlude,” a toccata by Michelangelo Rossi, gives the rare chance to hear the unusual sound of the composite instrument, the claviorganum. The claviorganum combines both harpsichord and organ in one instrument; here, through the use of two manuals, one can play florid passages on the harpsichord while rendering chordal accompaniment on the organ, well serving the structure of Rossi’s piece.

In Lamentazioni per Settimana Santa we hear the stunning musical echoes of the rich devotional life of seventeenth-century Rome. Brought to life through performances of great beauty, this is a recording to savor.

Steven Plank

image_description=Lamentazioni per la Settimana Santa

product_title=Lamentazioni per la Settimana Santa
product_by=Maria Cristina Kiehr, soprano; Concerto Soave, Jean-Marc Aymes, Director.
product_id=Harmonia Mundi HMC901952 [CD]

Posted by steve_p at 4:22 PM

Deborah Voigt in Concert with the San Francisco Symphony

We are perhaps familiar with a more usual “Liederabend” approach as furthered by other celebrated sopranos -- you know, the often mewing, cooing, hushed treatment of every fragile syllable as-if-they-might-break-if-sung-too-operatically? Such studied wispiness was little in evidence in Ms. Voigt’s renditions on January 10th. No wilting violet she, Diva Debbie just flat out really sang ‘em all instead of over-“interpreting” them. And oh, how she sang! With steady tone of great presence in all registers and at all gradations of volume; with generous, soaring, high-flying phrases; with delicate nuance and telling detail; all of which was characterized by excellent diction and complete stylistic understanding.

Up against her seasoned Straussian standard then, the SFO was highly competent if not quite equally successful in essaying this richly detailed score. Oft times on past occasions I have wished this fine group of musicians would coalesce into a single-minded band of thrilling music-makers, and often as not I have found them a bit wanting in artistic vision and ensemble, no more so than now as they confronted these lush, complex orchestral songs. If history is a teacher, my past SFO experiences had perhaps taught me that Maestro Thomas (or “MTT” as he is marketed locally) seems to draw inspiration from superb soloists more than he appears to impart it routinely to his players. That was certainly true of such past luminaries as Lang Lang and Helene Grimaud, with whom he became a true collaborator, and with whom the orchestra excelled. Here, MTT inexplicably seemed content to allow the orchestra to be a somewhat aloof accompanist.

That said, there were some very fine orchestral moments to be sure, not least of which was a peerless violin solo in “Beim Schlafengehen,” matched by an equally superb horn solo in “Im Abendrot.” (Indeed, the horns were remarkably wonderful throughout the evening.) Having heard the Vienna Philharmonic take on this score, the bar was set very high for me, since those guys absolutely inhabit this music as a seamless ensemble. That SFO would not be so seamlessly involved was foretold by the concert opener, Knussen’s Third Symphony. It was dispatched with cool skill, but little overt joy or passion, the very talented individual musicians shining if somewhat independent. The Strauss merely continued that semi-detached, sit-back-and-play-the-notes pattern.

And then something happened. Barber’s seldom heard “Andromache’s Farewell” knocked us right between the eyes with a well-judged and committed dramatic reading from our soprano, matched thrill for thrill by expansive, virtuosic orchestral playing elicited by MTT’s fiery conducting. (What, did this guy knock back a couple of Red Bull’s at intermission?)

The wonderful, under-valued soprano Martina Arroyo premiered the piece in 1963 to open the new Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. How enjoyable to already encounter the vibrant palette of orchestral sounds and effects (especially the exciting brass fanfares) that the composer would further refine and put to good use a bit later in his “Antony and Cleopatra” which opened the new Metropolitan Opera House.

“Andromache’s” dynamic score certainly deserves to be heard more often. That is, if a dramatic soprano of Ms. Voigt’s bountiful gifts can be found. It is an interesting and varied scena with well-calculated dramatic tension; featuring a pleasing balance of signature Barber melodiousness and parlando passages; and with some sure-fire, slam-bang, full-Geschrei money notes that stir the soul and tickle the eardrums. And man, does our Diva ever have those money notes! Million Dollar Baby, baby! It was a singular treat to hear such a wholly realized, successful undertaking of this rarity.

After the prolonged ovation died down for the Barber, MTT then jumped right into a Puckish reading of Beethoven’s Fourth with equally pleasing results. Though it may not have the grandeur or gravitas of the “bookend” Third and Fifth Symphonies, it was delightful nonetheless, especially in this playful, inspired interpretation. My persistence in returning to Davies Hall for yet another concert after those several disappointing near-misses was amply rewarded this night, for now SFO was indeed not just “playing” but truly “inhabiting” the music with abandon.

MTT was in his element, inspiring and charismatic, enjoying himself (and Beethoven) so much that at a couple of points I was thinking he may just break into some spontaneous Schuhplatten. The orchestra responded in kind with flawless ensemble playing and sparkling, intricate solo work. (As Ed Sullivan might say: “How about a hand for that bassoon player? C’mon!”) The last stinging chord brought a rain of rousing cheers down on the assemblage, probably not a usual response for the Fourth, which says a lot for the dazzling magic that MTT and the SFO imbued on a piece of such gentler gifts.

After this exciting second half, representing the very best I have ever heard from this bunch and rivaling any other orchestra in the world, I wanted to shout “Dude, drink the Red Bull before Act One next time!” And for all I know, MTT did. . .

James Sohre

image=http://www.operatoday.com/voigt_deborah_copper.png image_description=Deborah Voigt product=yes product_title=Above: Deborah Voigt (Columbia Artists Management | 21C Media Group)
Posted by Gary at 4:15 PM

John Adams' Doctor Atomic in Chicago

Doctor Atomic, now making its second appearance in North America at Lyric Opera of Chicago after a successful premier in San Francisco, has at its core the sound that we have come to expect from a work bearing Adams’ autograph, but the composer has expanded his sonic language, embracing an approach that straddles a very delicate compositional line: Adams, unlike many of his contemporaries, is able to be at once harmonically complex and accessible. The dense score is simultaneously engaging and tuneful.

The drama of the opera concerns itself with the work of J. Robert Oppenheimer and his team at the test site of the first atomic bomb outside Los Alamos, New Mexico during the days leading up to the first detonation. Tensions build as the test approaches and conditions become less and less favorable. Oppenheimer and his staff consider the implications of their work and the strong possibility that their labor and calculations could end in folly.

The role of Oppenheimer, sung exquisitely by Gerald Finley, begs the ethical scientific questions of the first half of the 20th century. First, is a mastery of science reason enough to employ the laws of nature to destructive ends? And, additionally, if we respect the dignity of life, what are the criteria we use to decide when the time has arrived to employ devastation on such a large scale? Adams paints with broad strokes well suited to operatic characters. Acquiescing to the commands of those more powerful than he and arguing that morality has no place in a lab, Oppenheimer struggles to convince himself that he is not responsible for the global annihilation of which his “gadget” is capable. Conflicted but moving ever forward, Finley’s Oppenheimer is representative of humanity itself. Finley’s end of act one tour-de-force soliloquy “Batter my Heart” is a crystallization of this dramatic idea.

On opposite sides of the allegorical spectrum, Robert Wilson and Richard Teller respectively oppose and condone the experiment. Thomas Glenn handles the vocally demanding role of Robert Wilson securely in spite of its relentlessly high tessitura. Glenn’s characterization is appropriately urgent, as he eloquently implores Oppenheimer and the rest of the team to petition Washington to stand down on the attack until the Japanese have been given clear terms of peace. Richard Paul Fink’s characterization of Teller is chillingly laissez-faire, his matter-of-fact delivery as frightening as the bomb itself, which hangs overhead throughout the entire performance.

As Kitty Oppenheimer, Jessica Rivera provides an attractive foil to a mostly male cast. Her warm tones bring true beauty to “Am I in your light”, and her mastery of the angular, cross-registral lines show the singer off to great success. If Meredith Arwady’s vocal line is not as smooth as one might have hoped, her portrayal of Pasquelita is characterized by a rich and booming contralto. A member of Lyric Opera’s Ryan Center, Ms. Arwady’s career is definitely one to watch.

Under the leadership of Donald Nally, the ensemble gives an effective, moody opening chorus and provides commentary throughout. The sense of ensemble is sure, and the musicianship unfaltering and clear. The corps de ballet, however, does not fare as well. Lucinda Childs’ choreography was abstract and moving, and it provided a great deal of much appreciated spectacle, but it is, unfortunately, executed somewhat weakly by the dancers, who seemed on several occasions dangerously off-balance. Peter Sellars’ compiled libretto is serviceable but suffers under comparison to the brilliant work of Alice Goodman, who prepared the incomparable text for Nixon in China. Sellars’ choice of texts for arioso moments, which range from the metaphysical and symbolist poets to the Bhagavad-Gita is wise, saving the director-librettist from foisting upon the composer the unhappy task of setting less lyrical texts for critical emotional moments. Sets by Adrianne Lobel were industrial and functional, helping the drama to continue along at an exciting pace.

Highest praise, however, must be extended to conductor Robert Spano, who finds the logic of the fascinatingly overwhelming score. Under his baton, Lyric’s orchestra makes sense of the polyrhythmic undulations and pan-tonal implications of the work.

Doctor Atomic is an important addition to the operatic canon. The evening continues the Adams-Sellars collaborative tradition of socio-political examination of definitive moments of modern history, and as such, is perhaps not as narratively satisfying as traditional nineteenth century opera to less experienced theatre-goers. Though it is not overwrought, this evening of theatre is operatic, and this sentiment can be found in the cardinal expression of the human heart in ethical conflict with itself. This anxiety is not particular to modernism, but its application in Doctor Atomic is extremely timely and makes for a thoroughly entertaining evening. Those who attend hoping for stage pyrotechnics and a “big bang” will be disappointed, but those who attend looking for distilled ethical conflict will leave more than satisfied.

Gregory Peebles © 2008

image=http://www.operatoday.com/DrAtomic_Chicago.png image_description=In a scene from Act I of the Peter Sellars-directed Doctor Atomic, a Lyric Opera of Chicago premiere for the 2007-08 season, Robert Oppenheimer (Gerald Finley, l.) and Edward Teller (Richard Paul Fink, r.) confer in a Los Alamos laboratory. Photo by Robert Kusel/Lyric Opera of Chicago. product=yes product_title=Above: In a scene from Act I of the Peter Sellars-directed Doctor Atomic, a Lyric Opera of Chicago premiere for the 2007-08 season, Robert Oppenheimer (Gerald Finley, l.) and Edward Teller (Richard Paul Fink, r.) confer in a Los Alamos laboratory. Photo by Robert Kusel/Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Posted by Gary at 4:04 PM

Vivaldi: Griselda

Griselda_Naxos.pngDominic McHugh [MusicalCriticism.com]
Until very recently, the chances of being able to obtain a recording of an early-eighteenth-century opera were slim; excepting a handful of Handel's most popular operas, almost nothing was available in the catalogues of major record labels.

Posted by Gary at 3:52 PM

L.A. Opera presents a 'Tristan' of this world

LAOpera_Tristan.png(Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of LA Opera)
By TIMOTHY MANGAN [Orange County Register, 20 January 2008]

The way "Tristan and Isolde" is written and talked about, you're surprised that it's done at all. Wagner's 1859 epic isn't just any opera, it's a holy monument of music, an untouchable masterpiece. It single-handedly (apparently) started the harmonic revolution that resulted with the end of tonality. Its two lead roles require superhumans with lungs of steel.

Posted by Gary at 2:55 PM

Behold! An Operatic Miracle

Sinclair LewisBy JESSE GREEN [NY Times, 20 January 2008]

ON a cold Saturday afternoon in November, Robert Aldridge and Herschel Garfein held court in the vaulted marble lobby of the Hermitage Hotel here, dispensing bons mots and refreshments with abandon. A Brownie troop practicing Southern charm over tea nearby kept glancing toward them in awe. Who were these great men seated before the fire, broadly gesturing and accepting homage in plus-size wingback chairs?

Posted by Gary at 2:49 PM


Music composed by W. A Mozart (arranged by Richard Strauss (1930)). Libretto by Abbate Giambattista Varesco after a French opera by Campra and Danchet. Revised German text by Lothar Wallenstein.

First Performance: 29 January 1781, Hoftheater, Munich

Strauss arrangement: 16 April 1931, Wiener Staatsoper, Vienna

Principal Characters
Idomeneo, King of Crete Tenor
Idamantes, his son Soprano
Ilia, Priamos's daughter Lyric Soprano
Ismene, priestess Dramatic Soprano
High Priest Bass
Arbaces Baritone
A Voice Bass

Setting: The isle of Crete after the Trojan war


Act I

Ilia, a Trojan prisoner in Crete, is in love with Idamante, son of Idomeneo, who, it seems, may have perished with the Greek fleet. Ilia imagines that the Greek princess Elettra may fare better with Idamante, who enters, bringing news of the sighting of the Greek fleet and the decision to release the Trojan prisoners, while he remains captive to the charms of Ilia. Elettra objects to this act of clemency, and Arbaces enters with the news that the fleet has sunk. Idomeneo, however, has survived, thanks to the vow he has made to Neptune to sacrifice the first living being he meets on his return. Idamante approaches him, neither of them recognising the other. When Idomeneo learns that the other is his son, he rushes away.

Act II

Idomeneo confides in Arbace, who suggests that Idamante should go away, escorting Elettra back to Argos, until some other solution may be found. As they are about to board ship, a storm arises and a sea- monster emerges. Idomeneo admits the vow he has made, but does not give the name of his son.


Ilia and Idamante are together in the palace gardens, joined there by Idomeneo and Elettra, all expressing their conflicting feelings. The sea-monster meanwhile has been causing devastation and Idomeneo admits to the High Priest of Neptune that the sacrificial victim should be his son Idamante. He, however, has killed the monster and now offers himself as a victim. Ilia tries to take his place, but the voice of Neptune bids Idomeneo abdicate in favour of his son, who should marry Ilia, a command that allows Elettra a final expression of jealousy and anger. Idomeneo is grateful for the rest that retirement will bring.

[Source: Naxos]

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Neptune.jpg image_description=Mosaic of Neptune audio=yes first_audio_name=W.A. Mozart: Idomeneo (Strauss arrangement)
WinAMP, VLC, FooBar first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Idomeneo_Strauss.m3u product=yes product_title=W.A. Mozart: Idomeneo (Strauss arrangement) product_by=Robert Gambill: Idomeneo
Britta Stallmeister: Ilia
Christoph Pohl: Arbace
Iris Vermillion: Idamante
Camilla Nylund: Ismene
Jacques-Greg Belobo: High priest
Rainer Büsching: Voice of the oracle
Dresden Staatskapelle
Chorus of the Dresden Staatsoper
Fabio Luisi, Conductor
Matthias Brauer, Chorus master
Live performance, 25 August 2006, Felsenreitschule, Salzburg (Concert Performance)
Posted by Gary at 2:24 PM

January 18, 2008

Lully Returns to the Opéra Comique

lully1.png[Opéra Comique]

On an evening of April 1673, in Rue de Vaugirard in Paris, curious spectators discovered the very first French lyrical tragedy in a jeu de paume (an early tennis court) converted into a modest theatre. The libretto of Cadmus and Hermione had been written by a reputed academician, and the score by the brilliant Music Superintendent of the King. Their song-and-dance work has the distinction of court performances and was set to a drama of unprecedented coherence.

Posted by Gary at 4:29 PM

Another fine Messiaen

Oliviermessiaen.png[Guardian, 18 January 2008]

In the run-up to London's year-long Messiaen festival, Andrew Clements celebrates his inimitable music

Even if he had never published a note of his own music, nor laid a hand on a keyboard in public, Olivier Messiaen's influence on the course of music in the second half of the 20th century would still have been indelible.

Posted by Gary at 4:21 PM

The Swashbuckling Separatist

Mazepa.pngBY FRED KIRSHNIT [NY Sun, 18 January 2008]

Tchaikovsky's "Mazeppa," which had a one-night-only run at Brooklyn Academy of Music on Wednesday, is a relatively popular opera in its homeland, but a rarity in the West. New Yorkers, however, have had the opportunity to hear it three times in recent years. This current performance was the first of those not conducted by Valery Gergiev.

Posted by Gary at 4:13 PM

Best of 2007

vilainefille3_detail.pngMarion Lignana Rosenberg [vilaine file, 17 January 2008]

Newsday asked me to put together lists of 2007’s best opera performances and CDs. As published on the Web, the two lists became intermingled and scrambled, so I offer you here a corrected and illustrated version.

Posted by Gary at 10:11 AM

January 16, 2008


A modern way to embed diverse operatic arias into a unified storyline, Buddug Verona James is brilliant as Pedrolino, il magnifico. Il primo castrato del mondo! A one-woman show, it premiered at the Theatr Mwldan in Wales and its operatic offerings are collected here on this must-have Handel-centric collection.

Several years ago, I heard Buddug Verona James perform the title in Gluck’s reform opera Orfeo ed Euridice in Toronto with Opera Aetelier. She was quite wonderful in the role, to say the least, and I have since continued to keep track of her career. Not only is Ms. Verona James an accomplished singer, she is also a consummate actor, a notion that is fully exhibited here in this recording. Even without seeing her, one can hear the drama through her singing and she is, as ever, infinitely expressive.

Although Handel was not Italian, he specialized in writing operas based in the Italian aesthetic but he expanded upon the already existing style and created heroic roles for the most beloved and cherished voice of the day, the castrati. Castrati were, in essence, men who had glorious voices as young boy sopranos and whose family would offer them to the service of the church. In a barbaric practice that ceased around the end of the century, the young boys would not be entirely castrated, rather, a specific artery would be severed that allowed their voice to sing in the upper register where a soprano or mezzo-soprano would normally sing, even after puberty. These voices possessed incredible power and the capability of effecting intensely long lines of florid coloratura. For this reason, Handel began to write arias that were embedded with coloratura and lugubriously long-winded lines. Today, mezzo-sopranos often perform the roles of the castrati, however Buddug has caused a pseudo cross-dressing innovation by being a woman who is playing a man who sings like a woman.

The CD opens with one of Handel’s delightful and charming arias, “Dopo Notte” from Ariodante. Each aria is associated with the name of a historical Castrato, in this case Carestini (c1705-c1758). It begins with a lovely balanced instrumental introduction, from which Ms. Verona James glides in using appropriate aesthetic properties, voce bianca and swelling into a gloriously full-bodied sound with vibrato. Her Italian is quite wonderful and authentic, with significant use of legato for affect. Ms. Verona James’ voice is a lovely burnished mezzo with a spectacular squillo in the upper tessitura. Her fioritura on “vago sole” is a technical wonder and she ends the prima parte by applying a trill affect that is so stunningly produced that it seems almost computerized.

The instrumental consort is supportive and never over-bearing. They interact with each other, and provide a solid foundation for Ms. Verona James glistening passages. The contrasting B section of the aria is well produced, with the Violin first stating the coloratura passages that Verona James applies directly after, in an imitative fashion.

The return of the opening section is imbued with textual-painting, and her fioritura and use of baroque aesthetic practice is to be commended. An expansive and wonderful depth of tonal range, Ms. Verona James’ ending stretches from the very top of the mezzo range into a luscious chest voice, that is commensurate with landing on the word “terra” (ground). Listening to Handel sung by a poor singer often be boring, however there is not one boring moment in this interpretation of one of Handel’s beloved arias.

“Cara Sposa” from Rinaldo is another of Handel’s gems. This opens with an appropriately chosen tempo with the gamba and violins in weepy conversation. In an aria where mezzos often blow the roof off the opening line, Ms. Verona James sings it in a reserved and appropriate aesthetic. The lovely dissonances are blatant here and the voice almost resembles a member of the instrumental consort, rather than a voice being accompanied by instruments. The instrumentalists here exquisitely perform the lovely falling lines Handel writes for them. Ms. Verona James employs a pathetic tone and uses minimal vibrato here, to invoke pathos. She uses the text most powerfully. Her arrival on the word “pianti” is enough to give one shivers. There is a painful aura about the stretched dissonances and exuberant control applied by Ms. Verona James.

The middle section is a wonderful display of vocal control and her mastery of the Italian language. She easily throws off the intricate text and continues within the style of the day. This is the mark of a truly experienced vocalist.

The ornamented return of the prima parte is lovely with circular ornaments and some exquisite choices in terms of the Baroque penchant for dissonance. Ms. Verona James is so lovingly bound to this aesthetic that one wonders if this is exactly how we would have heard Handel during his day. A truly wonderful and expressive performance without the sometimes-bombastic interpretation of modern day singers who see this as a “big” sing and infuse it with emotion that would not be possible by a character in such pain.

From La Resurrezione, Ms. Verona James, in the style of “Senesino,” sings the aria “Piangete.” A lovely opening, this aria demonstrates how Handel oftentimes moves to key areas that are not anticipated. The lower range of Ms. Verona James voice is expressed here. It is seamless; there is not even a hint of shifting through the passaggi. Her expressive application on “Piangete, sì piangete” is perfectly matched by the weeping quality of the gamba that is also in its lower range.

On an aside, most of Handel’s arias are more historically known as Da Capo arias (where there is an ABA form followed in the music, with the B section exhibiting a contrast from the A material. The opening material is then repeated but ornamented by the singer, and should be in authentic aesthetic practice.

“Sento la gioia” is from an opera that is not often performed but that consists of several attractive arias, Amadigi. Ms. Verona James has selected two contrasting ones from Amadigi for this recording. She has been wise to select arias that display the different areas of her voice. This lies definitely in the mid-range and is a shimmering display of coloratura and technical prowess. The word “scintilla” and “stella” (glimmering stars) is almost representative of her vocal quality. In a most wonderful moment, the instrumentation stops while she holds an extended tone in voce bianca that is breathtakingly beautiful. The middle section is introduced by a lovely duet by the violins. Again, Ms. Verona James gives an authentic textual performance here. The return of the opening material is more imbued with vibrato and full-bodied singing, as the style suggests. Her fioritura is priceless, breathtaking, and effortless

One of Handel’s most beautifully written arias is “Pena Tirana,” also from Amadigi. This is a lovely opening with a glorious expansion of dissonances. In a more weeping interpretation than is sometimes presented, Ms. Verona James is secure and stately in her aesthetic value. When in duet with an instrument, she is always sensitive to the instrumental value and doesn’t cloud its importance with her own voice.

The B section begins with a repeat of the opening instrumental material with a lovely falling line. Imbued with a continuing lyrical bass line, Handel creates a countermelody that functions effectively with the voice. Perhaps Ms. Verona James use of “t’s” in the Italian here are a little too explosive for authenticity’s sake and could have been softer. The repeat of the opening material is beautifully ornamented and effected by both soloist and ensemble.

In “Ho un non so che nel core” used in La Resurrezione/Agrippina/Il Pastor Fido the opening, in duet with a solo violin is rhythmically exciting and Ms. Verona James’ voice is open and freely spinning here. The following display of cross-rhythms created by the instrumental ensemble is not anticipated. The instrumental group sounds more like a swing-group. Here we have juxtaposition of modernity over a historical voice. I had an excellent laugh at the end of this, especially with the interjecting “Hey!” by the instrumentalists. After a CD of serious and technically riveting moments, this comes as a surprise and is a little shocking at first, but pleasantly so.

Buddug-Verona-James-Bio-pic.pngWelsh Mezzo, Buddug Verona James

“Addio miei sospiri” from Orfeo ed Euridice is the only offering by Gluck and ends the CD in, what is, a lovely display of Ms. Verona James’ tonal range and almost unbelievable ornaments. A good number of years ago, a young mezzo emerged with such coloratura that it was said to be almost impossible, Cecilia Bartoli. Listening to this, I would equate Buddug Verona James with a similar technical ability for creating such seamless coloratura; so similar, in fact, that I am going to go so far as to suggest that displaying these two singers in the same production would be more than remarkable. Brava Buddug! This true historical and technically masterful singer deserves to be recognized and valued in the opera world as a brilliant gem.

Mary-Lou Patricia Vetere © 2008
PhD (ABD), M.A., Mus.B

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Castradiva.png image_description=Castradiva product=yes product_title=Castradiva — Castrati Arias by Handel and Gluck product_by=Buddug Verona James (mezzo-soprano), Clare Salaman (violin), Jane Norman (violin), Richard Boothby (viola da gamba), Sophia McKenna (oboe), Rosina Ahmad (bassoon), Andrew Wilson-Dickson (harpsichord). Directed and arranged by Andrew Wilson-Dickson. product_id=Fflach CD237L [CD] price=£8.99 product_url=http://www.fflach.co.uk/cms/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=69
Posted by Gary at 2:36 PM

A New Hansel und Gretel at the Met

Ironically, the only one of these faux-Wagnerian epics that became (and remained) a popular hit was Humperdinck’s 1893 setting of a Grimm fairy tale, which achieved the perfect union of tunes kids could appreciate (and even sing themselves — he wrote them for his sister’s children) and orchestral method that savors of Meistersinger. Hansel und Gretel makes use of Wagnerian counterpoint without all those embarrassing Wagnerian emotions, both immoral and illegal — Hansel and Gretel do not go running joyously into an amorous night.

_MG_7193.pngGertrude (Rosalind Plowright) and Peter (Alan Held)

In the present era, when children imagine themselves too sophisticated for fairy-tale kitsch (though they still love it in the right circumstances, and the old Met production was perfect of its kind), when they are raised on sarcastic cartoon banter and an After-School Special level of squalor, it seems that the presentation of Hansel und Gretel must modernize too. Hence the new Met staging, borrowed from the Welsh National Opera with a number of Brit trappings, such as a Witch in drag out of panto. The titular children, when we meet them, resemble shell-shocked raggedy dolls, listless and starving on oversized chairs in a low-rent kitchen. Later they fall asleep in a forest that resembles a very large dining room (terrific scary-forest wallpaper out of a Maurice Sendak tale and nightmarish waiters with branches for heads), dreaming not of angels but of Pillsbury doughboy chefs. The Witch lives in an industrial kitchen suitable to a summer camp and appears (in Adam Klein’s delicious performance) to be doing Julia Child and Dame Edna in tandem. Papa probably drinks and Mama is haggard from overwork (we are plainly dealing with latchkey kids here), and the dreams are not of Godly salvation but of gaudy desserts.

_MG_5809.pngHansel (Alice Coote), Gretel (Christine Schaefer) and Chefs/Angels

There’s a lot of good fun on the stage — what kid won’t snicker at a grown man in drag? — but will this do for holiday resurrection year upon year, as the fairy tale staging did? Or will once or twice do it? And will the kids have nightmares from those tree-waiters? I did. A friend of mine encountered a subway car full of kids after one of the special matinees of this production, and much as they’d loved the witch, the enormous machine-propelled Mouth that invites our heroes into her house was not their idea of fun.

_MG_7477.pngThe Witch (Adam Klein)

There is a lot of good Wagnerian melody coming from the orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski and a lot of good singing from the soloists, and the staging ideas, if they don’t all make sense, pass the time entertainingly.

_MG_0097.pngThe Sandman (Sasha Cooke), Hansel (Alice Coote) and Gretel (Christine Schaefer)

The piece is performed in an updated translation that sometimes fights with the old-fashioned music, and Christine Schaeffer as Gretel, the only singer in the cast who was not a native English-speaker, had some problems getting her words across — but that’s what subtitles are for. She and Alice Coote (a fine Sesto and Octavian — will I ever see the charming Ms. Coote in a girl’s role?) produce clear, reliably sexless vocal lines — these two proto-Wagnerian characters must carry over a Wagnerian orchestra with apparent childish ease — and they had fun mingling the demands of the libretto with moves borrowed from modern video. Rosalind Plowright looked like a harried denizen of Coronation Street, but the mother’s role is by no means a simple one, and she sang it effectively. Alan Held filled the theater with impressive vigor as the father — it was no surprise after this performance to learn he is preparing Wotan for the D.C. Ring.

_MG_5589.pngThe Dew Fairy (Lisette Oropesa)

Lisette Oropesa sang the Dew Fairy sweetly in hotel chambermaid drag. In short, the piece came off, the Witch got her madcap laughs (we all liked the paper sleeves she placed on Hansel’s wrists and ankles before baking), and there was joy to share. What more does one ask of this opera? Magic?

Of genuine magic there was only one moment all night: the aria of the Sandman, as sung by Sasha Cooke of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artists Program: a light, clear voice, seemingly tiny but produced so that it easily filled the house and fell on each ear like fairy dust, a subtle staging that was, for once, not an intrusion but a rare visit from the atmosphere of Grimm to a corrupted world.

John Yohalem

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Hansel_Gretel_Met.png image_description=Hansel (Alice Coote) and Gretel (Christine Schaefer) [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera] product=yes product_title=Engelbert Humperdinck: Hansel und Gretel product_by=Hansel: Alice Coote; Gretel: Christine Schaefer; Gertrude: Rosalind Plowright; Peter: Alan Held; Witch: Adam Klein; Sandman: Sasha Cooke; Dew Fairy: Lisette Oropesa. Conducted by Vladimir Jurowski. Production by Richard Jones. Sets and Costumes by John Macfarlane. English translation by David Pountney. product_id=Above: Hansel (Alice Coote) and Gretel (Christine Schaefer)
All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera
Posted by Gary at 12:31 PM

January 14, 2008

Hallelujah! Sex life of Handel’s muse coming to screen near you

Dalya Alberge [Times Online, 14 January 2008]

He was England’s German-born composer, a favourite of George I, who wrote some of the greatest music in history. Now film-makers are set to do for Handel what they did for Mozart in bringing him to life on the big screen.

Posted by Gary at 9:45 AM

Boffo Performances in 'Barber'

Garanca_Barbiere_small.png(Photo by Marty Sohl courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera)
By JAY NORDLINGER [NY Sun, 14 January 2008]

Last season, the Metropolitan Opera staged a new production of "The Barber of Seville," Rossini's great hit. It was directed by Bartlett Sher, of "Light in the Piazza" fame. In the saucy role of Rosina, the Met had two women: Diana Damrau, the German soprano, and Joyce DiDonato, the American mezzo. Both were delicious, in their own, distinct ways.

Posted by Gary at 9:24 AM

Mozart's Love Letter

By Jane Glover [Playbill, 12 January 2008]

The year 1781 was hugely important for Mozart. After his triumph in Munich with Idomeneo, he was summoned to Vienna by his employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg, who was to spend several weeks in the Austrian capital and required some of his household musicians to attend him there. Mozart was suddenly relegated therefore from the position of an important guest composer-conductor in Bavaria to that of a mere servant (seated at meals "above the cooks but below the valets," as he reported bitterly in a letter to his father); and as his movements were continually restricted, so his frustrations and anger increased. By June 1781 he had had enough.

Posted by Gary at 9:11 AM

January 13, 2008

GLUCK: Paride ed Elena

Music composed by Christoph Willibald Gluck. Libretto by Ranieri de’Calzabigi.

First Performance: 3 November 1770, Burgtheater, Vienna

Principal Characters:
Paris, son of King Priam of Troy soprano castrato
Helen, Queen of Sparta soprano
Amore [Cupid], under the name of Erasto, Helen’s confidant soprano
Pallas Athene (Minerva), goddess, daughter of Jupiter soprano
A Trojan soprano

Setting: Sparta before the Trojan War.


The last of Gluck’s so-called reform operas, Paride ed Elena encompasses the events between The Judgment of Paris and the flight of Paris and Helen to Troy.

According to the Cyprea:

Zeus plans with Themis to bring about the Trojan war. Strife arrives while the gods are feasting at the marriage of Peleus and starts a dispute between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite as to which of them is fairest. The three are led by Hermes at the command of Zeus to Alexandrus [Paris] on Mount Ida for his decision, and Alexandrus, lured by his promised marriage with Helen, decides in favour of Aphrodite.

Paris deserts the nymph Oenone and proceeds to Sparta to claim Helen, the wife of Menelaus. Following the Greek custom to “[h]ave Respect for one in need of house and hospitality,” Menelaus welcomes Paris as his guest. Paris thereupon seduces Helen. Initially outraged, Helen ultimately takes flight with Paris to Troy.

The abduction of Helen leads to the Trojan War immortalized in Homer’s Iliad. Ironically, Paris dies from battle wounds that Oenone refuses to cure. Helen, on the other hand, returns to Sparta where Menelaus restores her as his queen. Although condemned by the tragedians, others found Helen praiseworthy. Indeed, the great rhetorician, Isocrates, went so far as to argue:

Apart from the arts and philosophic studies and all the other benefits which one might attribute to her and to the Trojan War, we should be justified in considering that it is owing to Helen that we are not the slaves of the barbarians. For we shall find that it was because of her that the Greeks became united in harmonious accord and organized a common expedition against the barbarians, and that it was then for the first time that Europe set up a trophy of victory over Asia; and in consequence, we experienced a change so great that, although in former times any barbarians who were in misfortune presumed to be rulers over the Greek cities (for example, Danaus, an exile from Egypt, occupied Argos, Cadmus of Sidon became king of Thebes, the Carians colonized the islands, and Pelops, son of Tantalus, became master of all the Peloponnese), yet after that war our race expanded so greatly that it took from the barbarians great cities and much territory. If, therefore, any orators wish to dilate upon these matters and dwell upon them, they will not be at a loss for material apart from what I have said, wherewith to praise Helen; on the contrary, they will discover many new arguments that relate to her.


Paris, having chosen Venus above Juno and Minerva, is in Sparta, sacrificing to Venus and seeking, now with the encouragement of Erasto, the love of Helen. Paris and Helen meet at her royal palace and each is struck by the other's beauty. She calls on him to judge an athletic contest and when asked to sing he does so in praise of her beauty, admitting the purpose of his visit is to win her love. She dismisses him. In despair Paris now pleads with her, and she begins to give way. Eventually, through the intervention of Erasto, who now reveals himself as Cupid, she gives way, but Pallas Athene (Minerva) now warns them of sorrow to come. In the final scene Paris and Helen make ready to embark for Troy.

[Synopsis source: Naxos]

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Les_Amours_de_Paris_et_d_He.png image_description=Les Amours de Pâris et d'Hélène by Jacques-Louis David (1788) [Musée du Louvre] audio=yes first_audio_name=Christoph Willibald Gluck: Paride ed Elena
WinAMP, VLC, FooBar first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Paride.m3u product=yes product_title=Christoph Willibald Gluck: Paride ed Elena product_by=Magdalena Kozena (Paride), Susan Gritton (Elena), Carolyn Sampson (Amore), Gillian Webster (Pallade), Gabrieli Consort & Players, directed by Paul McCreesh.
Live performance, 23 October 2003, Cité de la Musique, Paris
Posted by Gary at 7:04 PM

Tom Moore Interviews Dimitri Cervo

His work Canauê, op. 22 was heard at the 2007 Bienal. We spoke at the Sala Cecilia Meireles, in Portuguese.

TM: What was the musical environment like in your family? How did you become a musician?

DC: My family does not have a tradition of professional musicians, but there was a tradition of listening to classical music at home. Music was always present. I remember dancing to the Symphony no. 6 of Beethoven when I was three years old. We also listened to Brazilian popular music. Something drew me to classical music, and I asked my mother to study piano. We had a conservatory near the house, and at eleven I started piano lessons. We didn’t have a piano at home, and I would go to the conservatory three times a week. The following year, when I was twelve, I was already beginning to improvise and compose things. Since I didn’t have a piano, I would play the piano pieces on the guitar. I began to learn guitar — a friend of mine was teaching me classical guitar. Thing went along like that for three years, playing piano and guitar, until when I was fourteen, my parents rented a piano, and from that point on, I began to dedicate myself more to music, began to compose, and write scores. I decided at fourteen to be a musician, something I remember clearly.

I went to college at 18, and wanted to do composition, but at the time the course in Porto Alegre in composition and conducting was a six-year program, and I had the impression that I would learn more composition if I went deeper into the piano. So I did a bachelor’s in piano, a five-year program.

TM: What was the music you enjoyed as an adolescent? Were there important classical pieces? What kind of popular music or jazz or rock was present for you?

DC: There were some formative musical experiences. One was the Concierto de Aranjuez by Rodrigo — when I was thirteen I would listen to this piece every day — I heard it hundreds of times. I used to listen to the university radio station at the time, which played classical music all day. At home I would listen to Beethoven — the Sonata Pathetique, the Appassionata, the third piano concerto. These were pieces I listened to a great deal, since I would dedicate myself to one work over many months.

In the area of popular music, the centerpiece was Chico Buarque — my parents very much enjoyed Chico Buarque. I knew all of his records. This was at the end of the seventies, beginning of the eighties.

Later I began to listen to more music from the twentieth century, when I was 19, 20.

TM: Is your family from Porto Alegre?

DC: In fact we were born in Santa Maria, which is four hours from Porto Alegre. I was born there; my parents were born in the vicinity, and studied at the Federal University of Santa Maria. But after I was born they moved to Porto Alegre, so I grew up there.

TM: Every Brazilian is a mixture….but is your family from Brazil, or do you have immigrants from Italy, Portugal…?

DC: On my father’s side my family is Italian. My great-great-grandfather came from Italy to Brazil, with my great-grandfather on his lap. My grandfather also married an Italian, so my father’s side is all Italian, pure Italian, let’s say. My mother’s side is more mixed, a mix of Spanish, Indian and Portuguese. My second name is Avila — Dimitri de Avila.

TM: What are the Italian traditions in Rio Grande do Sul?

DC: The culture there is mainly formed by the Italian and German culture of the immigrants. You also have the indigenous traditions through the missions [Jesuit centers for catechizing the Indians].

There is a tradition of quadrilles. The folklore of Rio Grande do Sul is very much influence by European traditions. I couldn’t say, since I was never much involved with Italian culture.

TM: Your undergraduate studies were in piano, but with the idea of becoming a composer.

DC: I had been planning to be a composer since the age of 14. When I finished the program in piano, I began to dedicate myself more to composition, although by then I already composed several works. I began to develop my own voice in composition with a piece called Toccata, which I wrote when I was nineteen, twenty years old. In 1988, when I was about twenty, there was a touring program of minimalist works by German composers, which was in Porto Alegre for four or five days, so I had a lot of time to get to known that esthetic.

TM: Which composers were represented?

DC: Arvo Part, which was my first contact with his music. Hans Otte. No Steve Reich or Philip Glass, since all the composers were European.

I did a number of workshops of contemporary music. Once I finished my undergraduate degree I began to do recitals of chamber music with my works, and so I moved more decisively toward composition.

TM: What is the classical music scene in Porto Alegre like? What are the important institutions? Is there a contemporary music scene?

DC: The institutions were the Symphony Orchestra of Porto Alegre, the Chamber Orchestra of the Teatro S. Pedro, which was more amateur, but still playing at an impressive level. Contemporary music events tended to be limited to those at the Goethe Institut, usually with composers who would come to do master classes and workshops. I remember a musical life in Porto Alegre that was quite rich overall, with classical music being strong there proportionally. If you look at sheer numbers, Rio has more, but if you look at their relative populations, Porto Alegre may be stronger in classical music.

TM: In terms of literature there are many important figures from the south of Brazil.

DC: We have Érico Veríssimo, a great writer, perhaps the greatest gaucho writer of all time, the poet Mario Quintana…there are some composers who have made an impact on the national level, but few, since the south has always been a region which is more isolated, a state which was separatist, another Brazil, really.

TM: It has its own traditions, the figure of the gaucho

DC: It has much more to do with the culture of Buenos Aires and Uruguay than with the culture of Brazil, perhaps because the presence of the African element there is minimal. So the idea of brasilidade, which has a strong Afro component, is something we don’t have in the south. This is something which sets us apart.

TM: You mentioned the minimalist music of Part and other European composers. You went on to do a master’s after your bachelor’s in piano…

DC: I went to Salvador. After I finished my bachelor’s I spent several months traveling in Europe. I spent a month in Italy and managed to get a fellowship to study composition at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena. I returned to Italy some months later, did the two-month course with Franco Donatoni. I enjoyed the experience, but it was not the kind of music that I wanted to write. I was still trying to find a voice, and my music at the time had influences from impressionism, a little minimalism, a language that was more modal and tonal, but without influences of any sort from Brazilian music – nothing. I even remember that once I played at the Academia Vulcan, in Sao Paulo, in 1990, played the Toccata which I consider my first mature work, my opus one, and pianist Yara Bernete said “your music doesn’t have anything Brazilian in it, does it?”, and that made me start thinking about the matter.

I was living in Salvador from 1992 on, where I was doing my masters at the Federal University of Bahia.

TM: That must have been very different from Rio Grande do Sul.

DC: It was a considerable culture shock for the first six months, a shock that was greater than when I lived in the USA several years later. In Salvador I began to have a contact with a very strong afro-brasilidade. You see various cultural manifestations, capoeira….I had a colleague who was doing work on candomble. She was doing ethnomusicological study, and I went with her and was present at various sessions of candomble, which made quite an impression on me — that rhythmic music. Salvador was a very important experience for me, something that I only realized later, because while I was there I continued to write the sort of music I had been doing before. The Passacaglia Fantasia, for example, which is a work that blends romanticism with minimalism, is from 1991-1993. Later, in 1993, still in Salvador, I wrote Flot, music that had no connection with Brazilian music.

But when I left Salvador in 1994, then the thing clicked, and I began to incorporate in 1995 a rhythmic dimension which had not been present before, an emphasis on rhythm, and this is something I associate with my experience with rhythm in Salvador. I began to write music which I enjoyed more and which had a Brazilianity, but which still had a lot of use of repetition. The pieces for clarinet and piano, the Abertura e Toccata for orchestra….this was music I started to do in 1995.

In 95-96, I had a almost nationalistic phase. There is the Variations, op. 10, on a theme which then becomes Luar do Sertão [a Brazilian popular song], and I wrote a Bachiana Brasileira [Renova-te, op. 9] for chorus. I felt the need to write something Brazilian, but it seemed the nationalism was too explicit, as if I had said “Now I am going to do something Brazilian!”. The piece for chorus op. 9 is one which I really like — I think it is an excellent work, while op. 10 seems to have a nationalism which is too heavy.

I stopped composing for two years. I went to Seattle in 1996, and between 1996 and 1998, I had a period of little compositional activity, a year without composing anything….I was in an environment of post-serialism, with a professor who wanted me to write that sort of music, and it wasn’t working very well. I wasn’t going to write music in the way that the professor wanted.

My experience at the university was excellent, since I had access to scores. This is when I went deeply into minimalism, because I had access to scores, recordings and musical literature. I got to know the music of Steve Reich and Philip Glass very well, some La Monte Young as well.

TM: Let’s go back to Bahia for a moment. Who were your professors?

DC: The Federal University of Bahia always had a very strong presence of contemporary music. Koellreutter settled there, and created a school of composers in Bahia — Ernst Widmer, Lindenbergue Cardoso — so it was always a school that had space, opening, movement in contemporary music. When I got there, this strain was diminishing somewhat, but there were still many opportunities to have pieces played. My adviser was Jamary de Oliveira, but I didn’t work on composition with him. We had seminars on Schenkerian analysis, analysis of atonal music, etc.

My final work for the masters’ was the Passacaglia Fantasia for piano and orchestra, which is a piece that I have rewritten three times. When I got to Bahia I wrote the second version, and recently once more. Now I consider it finished. It’s the same music, just that I worked on the writing and the orchestration. I presented this piece with the UFBA Symphonic Orchestra in Bahia.

It was a propitious environment, but my musical language was not affected.

TM: In Seattle you were studying for the doctorate?

DC: The two years in Seattle were part of a “sandwich” scholarship [where Brazil supports the student abroad for part of his/her doctoral study]. In 95 I started the doctorate at UFRGS, and in the middle of 96 I went to Seattle, intending to stay for one year. But since I loved it there, I extended the fellowship, and managed to stay for two years, and really managed to take advantage of the second year, since I had mastered the language, knew my way around the library…..I did a seminar on minimalism with Jonathan Bernard, who at the time was editor of Music Theory Spectrum. But the people there at the University of Washington were into post-serialism – my professor had studied with Ferneyhough. It was an esthetic position that did not interest me, but I absorbed what there was to absorb, did three semesters of conducting, which was wonderful. I had opportunities to hear excellent concerts.

TM: What was your experience being a Brazilian in the United States?

DC: Look, I felt more relaxed in the USA than in Salvador. In Salvador I felt more like a fish out of water, since I was tall, white, had green eyes – I felt more different.

TM: As a Brazilian in the USA were you something exotic, different?

DC: No, I didn’t feel that, since Seattle is a city with many foreigners living there, a port city, a city which is the closest to the Orient, with Indians, Koreans, Chinese — there is even a Chinatown there. There are Russian immigrants.

I found it to be an extremely cosmopolitan city. All port cities are cosmopolitan. I had a very negative impression of the United States before living in Seattle.

TM: How?

DC: I had that idea that Americans were alienated, knew nothing about anything, were cold personally…..that stereotype we have, that might be true of people from the interior, the South….but I was very surprised by Seattle. I loved being there, and never felt like I was different, always felt respected and well-treated. I didn’t have problems fitting in. It is a nice place to be.

TM: And very beautiful to boot.

DC: Beautiful, beautiful, with an excellent quality of life. But perhaps even within the US Seattle is an exception, a privileged city, in terms of natural beauty, in terms of the population, the connection with the East. I know that Cage, Lou Harrison taught there –

TM: the “Left Coast”….

DC: It’s a different United States, and I don’t know the rest, just a little of Los Angeles and San Diego. This United States was one that I liked a lot.

TM: When you returned from Seattle to Brazil, where did you end up?

DC: I finished my doctorate, and began to compose quite a bit before returning from Seattle. It was clear to me that my esthetic was one that would combine minimalism and Brazilian music. I composed Papaji for cello and piano in Seattle, in 2000 I wrote Toronubá, in 2001 Pattapiana. This was a phase where I had lots of time to compose, since I didn’t have a steady job – I taught piano, had odd jobs….Time was available, and inspiration was not lacking. I came back to Brazil in 1998, and in 2000 I was awarded the fellowship from CNPQ for those who have recently completed their doctorates. I went to teach at the Federal University of Santa Maria (UFSM), classes in ear-training, counterpoint, harmony. My research led to a book on minimalism and its influence on contemporary music in Brazil.

I also spent two years at the Universidade Federal de Pelotas, and then returned to the University of Santa Maria for another two years, and since 2006 I have been in Porto Alegre at UFRGS.

TM: Let’s talk a little about the piece which we will hear today at the Bienal.

DC: Canauê is a piece I wrote in 2005. It is the last piece in the series Brasil 2000, which is a series of nine pieces for various instrumental forces. Since the series was directly inspired by the Bachianas of Villa-Lobos, as Villa-Lobos intended to fuse Brazilian music with Bach, I wanted to produce a series of works that would combine Brazilian music with aspects of minimalism.

TM: What does the title mean?

DC: The titles of my works allude to things, but many do not refer to something specific. Canauê is a word I invented, like Toronubá, but with an indigenous sound. I feel music in an abstract way, so I prefer not to give titles which are explanatory, but that instead have a sonority that has some connection with the work.

In 2004 maestro Roberto Duarte gave a course in orchestral conducting with the Orquestra Unisinos, which is no longer active, lamentably, but it was very active and had a winter school. I did two courses with maestro Duarte, and in the second was in contact with the Bachianas Brasileiras no. 9, which I directed in the students’ concert — I did the prelude, and another conductor from Rio did the fugue.

The score made quite an impression on me, with its ample writing for strings, full of divisi. The following year, when I began to write Canauê, I think there were subliminal influences from this work, because the Bachianas no. 9 begins with a mystic theme which becomes a fugue. So Canauê follows this same structure — a slow, mystic theme, which in the second part of the work becomes a quick theme, just that in Canauê you have an expansion of the theme, with a return of the slow theme, which closes the work, a ternary structure, ABA.

This is a work that I conceived as orchestral from the outset, with all the colors, orchestration, but I only wrote the orchestral version in 2007. I wrote the version for strings, because there was the possibility of a performance, and I don’t like to write pieces which don’t get played. Then there was a version for percussion — marimba solo, with three percussionists, and this version has an additional movement. The orchestral version I wrote this year, and it was performed by the Orquestra Sinfônica de Porto Alegre recently. After I wrote the orchestral version I returned to the version for strings and changed a few things, so that now it seems well-finished.

TM: Brazil has an amazing wealth of composers and music, but this music is largely unknown outside Brazil, perhaps because the internal music publishing market in Brazil is too small, and so there are no scores for export. What solutions could make it possible for Brazilian music to be better known abroad?

DC: I think Brazilian music life has improved in how it regards active composers. Over the last twenty years the number new Brazilian works which have been included in concert programs has increased considerably. The advent of the CD facilitated dissemination of Brazilian music. It’s true that classical music is on the periphery of Brazilian musical life, but I think that this is not so different from other countries, even those in Europe. I think it has to do with the level of education of the population, and with the level of purchasing power.

What needs to be done for this music to have a greater presence is more emphasis on education, as well as an improvement of the economic conditions of the country as a whole.

TM: Is there some way to improve the marketing of Brazilian music before these improvements take place?

DC: There are professional activities in this regard in Rio and Sao Paulo – there are publications such as Concerto and VivaMusica! We have strong institutions in Rio and Sao Paulo which support classical music, but in order for this music to reach a larger portion of the population education is necessary, access to education.

Another problem is that our economic elite is an elite which is intellectually and culturally poor. There are plenty of people with money, but they won’t use this money to support art, which is different from the situation in the USA, where people leave bequests to support culture, fellowship, where students support the universities where they studied.

Brazil is less mature as a people, and the public good is not valued. This is a profound cultural problem. We have to be conscious of the fact that our colonization was done in a chaotic fashion. Brazil only really began when the Portuguese court came. Thanks to Napoleon Brazil began to be a civilized country, when D. Joao came, and there started to be libraries, music etc.

We have to remember that our civilization is only two hundred years old, so our people is very young and immature in a number of areas — a happy and playful people, but not ready for the sort of messages which are carried by high culture. You can’t compare Brazil with somewhere which has two or three thousand years of history.

TM: What future projects do you have on line?

DC: I have been dedicating myself to making the things which I have done better known. I haven’t been writing so much at the moment. I always like to write for particular occasions where the piece will be performed. I feel better working like that these days.

If I can have a good work played ten, twenty, thirty times, this is more interesting for me than having ten pieces which are each played once. Pattapiana, which was heard at the Bienal in 2003, is a piece which was played by the Symphonic Orchestra of Campinas last month, and will be played in Paraguay in November. There was a very nice recording made of it in Israel….it’s a piece that has been performed seven or eight times in the last five years.

TM: How did you make the connection with Israel?

DC: A flutist from S. Paulo who has connections with Israel, James Strauss, got a grant to record a disc of Brazilian music for flute and strings, which includes Pattapiana — there’s also a piece by Tacuchian, a piece by Julio Medaglia…it hasn’t been released yet, but now there’s a nice recording of the piece.

Toronubá has been played more than thirty times, principally in the version for eightpercussionists and piano, which is coming out now on the CD of PIAP. The piecebeingplayed today, Canauê, has already been performed fifteen times in two years.

TM: This is a lot of work, doing the publicity.

DC: Yes. Sometimes I prefer to use my time to make connections and publicize pieces, than to write new works. It is hard to write a really good piece — something that you almost don’t have control over, and the incentives, financial incentives for writing new works are minimal. I have written relatively little because I write on commission. If I am not writing new pieces, I may be rewriting old ones. Next year there is a strong possibility that the Passacaglia Fantasia [op. 3] will be played by the Symphony in Bahia. So this year I rewrote the piece, since I only had the manuscript, produced a set of parts, revised the orchestration, and this is more pleasing than writing a new piece for orchestra.

TM: It is certainly no fun to write things that will stay in the drawer.

DC: I only have one piece which has not yet been played. These days we have such a variety of music available. There’s no point in writing 100 works. I prefer the style of Webern or Varese — a few works, which are consistent, which are really good, and enter the repertoire, than to write a lot of works….of course sometimes quality comes from quantity, but one is busy with teaching, extension projects, administration, preparing entrance exams….

I am always doing something. Rewriting a piece, or producing the parts…..I have written only one or two pieces per year.

TM: Final thoughts?

DC: Brazilian classical music has an enormous potential, just like our popular music. What is necessary for this music to become better-known outside Brazil is simply for it to be heard, for Brazilian performers who have an international presence to bring it with them on their concert programs. They are beginning to look more to their own country.

And we have to value our classical music more, create references within Brazil, and this will have an effect outside as well.

Our Brazilian classical music, as you say, has so many good things to offer, not just the music of Villa-Lobos, but of many other composers.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Cervo.png image_description=Dimitri Cervo product=yes product_title=Above: Dimitri Cervo
Posted by Gary at 5:02 PM

“One Foot in Eden Still, I Stand”: Choral Music by Nicholas Maw.

This present anthology by the Schola Cantorum of Oxford offers an interesting collection of his choral works, works whose texts and idioms make clear the composer’s native connection to the English tradition, while at the same time they reveal a diverse and individual voice. Maw’s music is often Romantic in spirit, though modern in harmonic language, while his contrapuntal bent, like the texts he sets, evokes earlier ages, still.

The Three Hymns (1989), settings of seventeenth-century devotional poetry, are alternately exuberant and intimate, with the second of the set, “Pastoral Hymn,” exhibiting a spry quality reminiscent of Britten—the text even seems somewhat resonant with Christopher Smart’s “Rejoice in the Lamb”—and text-inspired contrasts of pace and register are familiarly madrigalian. The Britten influence is clear in some of the Five Epigrams (1960), as well, such as the crisp frolic of the engaging “Andrew Turner.” Sometimes the nod is more in the direction of Vaughan Williams and Holst, as in the folk-song like “Popular Song” from the Five Irish Songs (1972). These examples doff the hat to notable forebears, and scattered here and there, remind us of the rich tradition to which Maw’s work is connected.

Maw’s gift for lyric lines is well in evidence in works like the Christmas carol “Balulalow” and “Swete Jesu,” the latter a commission for the annual Lessons and Carols broadcast from King’s College Cambridge. And in “Swete Jesu” an imbedding of the melody amid flowing contrapuntal lines in the second verse is especially memorable. This developmental sense is also particularly compelling in works like the beautiful Irish song, “Ringleted youth of my love,” where extended homophonic declamation warmly blossoms into more complex writing for subsequent verses.

The singing of the Schola Cantorum of Oxford is in the main very satisfying here. Complicated harmonies are handled with confidence, difficult figurations with dexterity, and the expression of the performances proceeds from a welcome sense of ownership and engagement. A recording of interest, this anthology underscores the continuing cultivation of English choral music by composers of the first rank.

Steven Plank

image_description=One Foot in Eden Still, I Stand

product_title=“One Foot in Eden Still, I Stand”
Choral Music by Nicholas Maw.
product_by=Schola Cantorum of Oxford; Mark Shepherd, conductor
product_id=Hyperion CDA67615 [CD]

Posted by steve_p at 4:06 PM

MOZART: Requiem (Neukomm ed.)

Where unfinished works are concerned, the question of authenticity becomes a prominent issue for musicologists and, for that matter, anyone who finds intrigue in a little bit of mystery. What would the end be like? Was this really how Mozart intended it to be? Several years ago, the feature film Amadeus, portrayed that Antonio Salieri was responsible for completing the Requiem, however, three composers are actually responsible for its completion, not including him. Salieri was not the composer to whom Mozart dictated the Requiem on his deathbed. Franz Xavier Süssmayer was responsible for writing the Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. For the ending he merely reprised the music of the opening Kyrie. Earlier, Josef Leopold Eybler had been commissioned to complete the Mass by Mozart’s widow. Finding the task too difficult, he was unable to complete it and passed the responsibility to Süssmayer. The unfinished manuscript remains a remarkable piece of evidence that contributes to the enigma of Mozart’s Requiem.

Sigismund-Neukomm.pngSigismund Neukomm

Now, a fourth composer has been associated with the mysterious Requiem: Sigismund Neukomm (1778-1858) provides an alternative conclusion. Once a pupil of Michael Haydn in Salzburg, the Austrian Neukomm was both a valued collaborator of Joseph Haydn and an untiring traveller. In 1816, he journeyed to Rio de Janeiro where he met Father José Mauricio Nunes Garcia (1767-1830) (mestre de capela to Emperor João VI), who asked Neukomm to write a Libera me which would conclude the first performance of Mozart’s Requiem in the New World (conducted by Nunes Garcia on 19 December 1819 at the Church of the Brotherhood of St Cecilia in Rio de Janeiro). Neukomm put his final touches to the score on 24 January 1821, according to the recovered manuscript. This, live, Télérama recording is the first to use the Neukomm ending.

The Requiem Aeternam begins with an appropriate funeralistic tempo that is well chosen by conductor, Jean-Claude Malgoire as he leads the woodwinds and brass into a crescendo, culminating in the entrance of the chorus. Since this is a live recording, the balance between the orchestra and chorus, at first, is unbalanced, such that the choir is slightly overpowered by the orchestra. For a listener who is unfamiliar with the Requiem, the suppression of the voices makes the text rather unintelligible. The unity of the choir’s inflections, however, allows for some control over the imbalance. The choral voices, in and of themselves blend remarkably. Soprano, Hjordis Thébault’s entrance on Te decet hymnus, Deus is elegant, but perhaps lacks that silvery, pure quality that is often required of a Mozartian soprano. The dotted-16th entrances, by the low strings, enter with an effective dramatic purpose at the Exaudi orationem meam cleverly colouring the text. As with all good choral writing, Mozart reserves the use of polyphony (more than one interacting voice in simultaneous motion) for the repetition of the Requiem Aeternam phrase, where it had previously been set homophonically (in unified by harmony central rhythmic blocks). Since the text has already been stated, it is now enhanced by the multiple entries of diverse voices.

At the Kyrie Eleison, a grand fugue, complete with vibrant melisamas and sequences in an ascending manner, is precisely intoned by the orchestra and chorus. Perhaps the tenors here sound a little strained because of the high tessitura and expansive range that Mozart demands. The web of polyphony ends on a wonderful diminished chord enhanced by the brass superimposed over what had been a more dominant string section. Choirmaster, Kantorei Saarlouis, exhibits excellent control over the choral properties here, Malgoire equally defines control and artistic aptitude with his orchestra.

The second part, otherwise known as the Sequence, begins with the most ominous Dies Irae. Malgoire, inflects the morbidity of the text by demanding a more pronounced use of the brass. Unfortunately and as a result, the voices seem rather unbalanced where they might have been more prominent here. Comparatively, in the Quando judex est venturus, the orchestral texture thins out and allows the chorus to emerge beautifully and display their affective and precise articulation.

Alain_Buet.pngAlain Buet

In the Tuba Mirum Mozart introduces the third of three textures used in the Requiem. In the first two sections, he uses homophony and polyphony (contrapuntal). In the Tuba Mirum he introduces his cantabile. The opening chord is delineated by a solo horn and juxtaposed with a noteworthy entry by Bass, Alain Buet, whose lyrical bass voice is enhanced by effective diction, expressivity, and articulation. The following entrance by Tenor, Simon Edwards on Mors stupebit et natura is equally as impressive, especially in conjunction with the simultaneous entrance of the strings after the solo horn introduction.

Simon Edwards continues into the Liber Scriptus where a horn interjects with subtle interludes. Mezzo-soprano, Gemma Coma-Alabert, in a rather weak entrance, commences with In quo totum contenitur. Her voice is lovely but lacks sufficient tone in the lower and middle registers where the orchestra overpowers her well-enunciated diction.

As the sequence continues, Hjordis Thébault continues with the Quid sum miser. Permeated by a series of statements and pauses between the text, the Cum vix Justus sit securus, indicates a questioning motive. Unfortunately, Ms. Thébault’s inflections do not ultimately achieve this stylistic gesture, however the solo quartet, upon their entry, elegantly evokes the questioning manner required for this text. The harmonic writing for the solo quartet is a definitive example of Mozart’s elegance and ability to create unified blocks of sound from four individual voices, as he often achieved in his string quartets. The four soloists achieve this affect gracefully. Malgoire’s orchestra ends with a beautiful cadence that moves from peace into chaos.

In the Rex Tremendae, another of the significant texts in the Requiem, the interplay between the dotted sixteenths in the strings and the blasts from the horns, is wonderfully captured by Malgoire. In this most stirring and often memorable movement of the sequence, the choir enters with a wonderfully rolled Rex, which is not often applied by choruses. The affect of the rolled consonant is, in fact, appropriate here. Rather than concentrating the melody into the voices, Mozart offers it to the orchestra with interplay by the choir. Malgoire is masterful in this section and becomes seemingly attentive to the balance and dramatic interchange between instruments and voices. The chorus functions almost as an obbligato. In this instance the orchestra is rightfully louder than the chorus, that enunciates with superb diction. The ensuing Salva Me is expressively presented by the sensitive interchange between the choristers.

Woodwinds open the Recordare with a reminiscent tone, followed by the strings and the entry of the mezzo, and bass, and followed by soprano and tenor. The polyphonic setting of the movement, with the strings doubling the vocal parts, is moving and well orchestrated by Malgoire. A few of the entrances by the solo quartet are not always in complete unison, rhythmically. The entries of bass, Alain Buet, however, are noteworthy for his expressive dramaticism.

The Ingemisco moves in well-chosen triple time and the homophonic textual setting is appropriate and well effected by the quartet. Mezzo, Coma-Alabert produces a lovely artistic moment here, where her voice becomes the central point around which the others circulate. In this movement, the orchestra does not overpower the voices, where in other movements it was a little too overbearing. Malgoire is attentive to the articulation and expressive nuance of the singers.

Jean-Claude-Malgoire.pngJean-Claude Malgoire

One of the significant attributes of the Confutatis is the extreme enharmonic and chromatic modulations. Successive lines of text are given in A-minor, Ab-minor, G-minor, and then via F#-major and F-major. Where the text, Confutatis Maledictis predominates, Malgoire allows the percussion section and brass to lead the orchestra. It becomes a character in its own right. Contrasted by the etheareal Voca me cum benedictis the chorus invokes the representation of light and dark, where death is the dark hue. An almost airy sound is generated on the Voca me entrances, that are appropriate and wonderfully colouristic. The strings continue with in ostinato where numerous luscious dissonances are signified by Malgoires’ artistic attention. The juxtaposition of the Dies irae text and the Oro supplex et acclinis is one of Mozart’s magnificent moments in the Requiem and is well applied by the chorus and orchestra as a whole.

The more lyrical Lacrymosa moves into unexpected keys and is where the chorus displays its ability to use dynamic expansion to its fullest. The interplaying horns and later percussion elegantly merge into the mix. In essence, Malgoire re-defines the balance issue that was evident at the beginning of the recording; through each movement, the balance becomes a tool of his own artistry. The orchestra and percussive elements of the Lacrymosa are balanced beautifully. In addition, the strings of Malgoire’s orchestra are perhaps the most remarkable element, unified with precise articulation, especially for Mozartian aesthetic stylings.

The sequence ends and moves into the Offertoire with the Domine Jesu. Again the chorus is much more prominent here, and is mindful to create lovely entrances of Libera eas that occur in a stretto-like fashion. They are wonderfully complimented by the orchestra, which becomes the underlying emotional figure with its continuing ostinato rhythmic pattern. The soloists enter in fuga at Sed signifier sanctus Michael with perhaps their most stunning moment of the recording. The solo quartet functions as a unit against the chorus, rather than four individual soloists. One might equate it to the function of the small ensemble in the Baroque concerto grosso. The triple meter change at Hostias et preces tibi is surely to evoke the trinity. Mozart sets this homophonically, with the strings playing in syncopated rhythms. The chorus continues to be well balanced with the orchestra, even now as the lower strings move in step downward descent. Again, as is typical of good choral writing, the chorus repeats the text in polyphony where, initially, it was stated homophonically, enhanced now by the horns and interjecting trumpets.

The following section requires that the orchestra and chorus function as a unit with the opening, thrice invoked Sanctus. Beginning in fuga, the Hosanna allows an opportunity for the orchestra and chorus combine forces and increase tension through dramatic inflection. Although Mozart could have likely expanded the Hosanna, he keeps it to a minimum and intends it to build toward, what is often, the most beloved moment of any mass, the Benedictus. Mezzo, and soprano enter first, but Coma-Alabert’s mezzo again lacks in the lower register. The expressive quality of this section seems slightly rushed where it could have been more liberal; yet, the beauty of the quartet is still evident. The binary form of this section is separated by a lovely moment in the clarinets that divides the opening text such that it now begins with bass Alain Buet, who expresses most beautifully in this section. His artistry is unparalleled on this recording and he shows himself to be an artist of consummate ability and expression. His bass is never forced and is liquid in its seemlessness. Unfortunately, to make the solo quartet stronger, the two outer voices should have functioned similarly, but Ms. Thébault’s soprano failed to produce a parallel seamlessness.

The Agnus Dei, well inflected by the orchestra is enhanced with percussive strokes and accents to support the thick, overall orchestral texture. Once again, the chorus dominates the movement with interjecting entrances by the woodwinds and strings, which beautifully produce circular scalar-like patterns in the violins.

The entrance of mezzo, Coma-Alabert in the Lux Aeterna is lovely, and is perhaps her most eloquent moment in this recording. The lyrical quality of her singing is appropriate and compliments the woodwinds that interact with her voice. The Cum sanctis tuis begins another moment of polyphonic majesty, with percussion and orchestra of the same order. The choral sopranos were, unfortunately, a little weak in this melismatic section. Some voices protruded in a moment that should evoke blocks of sound traveling together, rather than detached. This is the longest moment of fuga, which dually acts as a crescendo leading toward the following section. Its culmination is a beautifully projected diminished chord before the onset of the Libera Me, one of the crowning moments of this performance.

The Libera Me, which is the focus of this recording: the alternate conclusion to Mozart’s Requiem, is, in fact, more discreet than the one typically used. Neukomm conformed precisely to Mozart’s scoring, however there are more parts added here. The orchestra is slightly thicker than that used in the remaining portions. The Tremens factus sum ego is surprisingly beautiful and affective, with hushed vocal tones and detached entrances separated by silence. The first appendix offers new instrumentation and the addition of horns, flutes, and oboes. Unfortunately, this movement does have a more pronounced orchestral flavour, and is not as attentive to the orchestral function Mozart applied to preceding movements; yet, it offers an alternate possibility to a work without ending. Should works without endings simply remain unfinished, rather than end with the flavour of another composer? To confront the problem of disconnectivity, Neukomm cleverly repeats the opening music of the Requiem, which is appropriate and respectful to Mozart.

This recording is quite excellent if not for a few unbalanced moments. It is an interesting historical edition in regards to the Neukomm Libera Me, and also an opportunity to hear bass, Alain Buet, who is more than spectacular in this recording.

Mary-Lou P. Vetere, 2008
PhD (ABD), M.A., Mus.B

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Mozart_Requiem_Malgoire.png image_description=W. A. Mozart: Requiem, K.626 (with ending by Sigismund Neukomm) product=yes product_title=W. A. Mozart: Requiem, K.626 (with ending by Sigismund Neukomm) product_by=Hjordis Thébault (soprano), Gemma Coma-Alabert (mezzo-soprano), Simon Edwards (tenor), Alain Buet (bass), Le Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy, Kantorei Sarrlouis, Jean-Claude Malgoire (cond.) product_id=K617 180 [CD] price=$19.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=131314
Posted by Gary at 2:50 PM

January 10, 2008


First Performance:
Italian Version 5 October 1762, Burgtheater, Vienna
French Version 2 August 1774, Paris Opéra

Principal Characters:
Italian version
Orfeo Alto Castrato
(Mezzo-Soprano (Berlioz version))
Euridice, his wife Soprano
Amore Soprano

French version
Orphée Tenor
Eurydice, his wife Soprano
Amour Soprano

Time and Place: Ancient Thrace


At Eurydice’s funeral, Orphée’s grief turns to rage against the gods. Amour tells the distraught musician that he will be allowed to descend to the underworld to retrieve his wife if, through his music, he can appease the Furies.

There is a second condition that must be fulfilled if he is to return Eurydice to Earth; he must not look back at her during the journey out of the underworld, nor may he explain to her the reason for his apparent indifference. Orphée has no choice but to consent to the terms.

He subdues the Furies with his music and is permitted to enter the Elysian Fields. There, he meets Eurydice and begins to lead her back to Earth. Eurydice, unable to comprehend her spouse’s apparent indifference, becomes jealous and impatient, and is finally so overcome with frustration that she faints.

Orphée turns, looks, and loses her. He is distraught and on the brink of taking his own life, when Amour appears and restores the faithful lovers to each other.

image=http://www.operatoday.com/content/Orphee_et_Eurydice.jpg image_description=Orphée et Eurydice from Relief d'Hermès (Musée du Louvre) audio=yes first_audio_name=Christoph Willibald Gluck (Berlioz version): Orphée
WinAMP, VLC, FooBar first_audio_link=http://www.operatoday.com/Orphee_Berlioz1.m3u product=yes product_title=Christoph Willibald Gluck (Berlioz version): Orphée product_by=Orphée: Anne Sofie von Otter
Eurydice: Marie Arnet
Amor: Marianne Hellgren Staykov
Dancers, Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Stockholm Opera, Sir Richard Armstrong (cond.)
Live performance, 8 December 2007, Stockholm
Posted by Gary at 3:45 PM

Wo viele gern in die Oper gehen

SND-Historickabudova1.pngWILHELM SINKOVICZ [Die Presse, 10 January 2008]

Lokalaugenschein in Pressburg, wo das Nationaltheater für Verdi, Donizetti & Co. noch Regie statt Regietheater bietet und Stimmen zu entdecken sind.

„Wiens drittes Opernhaus“, prangt die Werbung. Tatsächlich pilgern etliche Wiener Opernfreunde gern und oft nach Pressburg, um dort Vorstellungen zu besuchen, sei es im alten, an die k.u.k. Vergangenheit erinnernden Nationaltheater, sei es im modernen Neubau an der Donau. Grund genug, einmal einen Lokalaugenschein zu wagen. Nach der endgültigen Öffnung der Grenzen muss man nicht einmal mehr mit Wartezeiten rechnen, und die ehemals ungarische (Pozsony), heute slowakische Hauptstadt (Bratislava) ist tatsächlich nicht viel weiter als ein Vorort von Wien entfernt.

Posted by Gary at 3:09 PM

Judith Weir: What Tavener and Copland taught me

JudithWeir.png[Daily Telegraph, 10 January 2008]

As the Barbican prepares a season celebrating the work of Judith Weir, Britain's foremost female composer talks to Ivan Hewett

How many classical composers manage to find a real public, beyond the airless confines of the "new music" world?

Posted by Gary at 2:59 PM

Opera's Switch Hitter

BY GEORGE LOOMIS [NY Sun, 10 January 2008]

Balmy weather might be expected to add to the appeal of a visitor's first trip to New York City, but, for Elina Garanca, it felt like nothing but trouble. The 31-year-old Latvian mezzo soprano, who has excited European audiences from Vienna to London, arrived earlier this week to prepare for her American debut on Saturday evening as Rosina in the Metropolitan Opera's production of "Il Barbiere di Siviglia." Like any conscientious singer, she was less inclined to enjoy the spring-like breezes than concerned with how the fluctuation in temperature would affect her health. "It's gone from minus 10 to plus 17," she said, referring to Celsius degrees, "and I am sensitive to air-conditioning."

Posted by Gary at 2:35 PM

Simon Keenlyside, Wigmore Hall, London

Keenlyside-photo.png(Photo by Clive Barda)
By Richard Fairman [Financial Times, 10 January 2008]

The Wigmore Hall boasts a number of benevolent ghosts. One of them must be Francis Poulenc, who had a long association with the hall, giving recitals with the baritone Pierre Bernac, and no doubt he will be haunting its hallowed stage again in the first half of 2008.

Posted by Gary at 2:21 PM

Opera Manager Joan Ingpen Dies at 91

ingpen_williams.pngBy TARIQ PANJA [Associated Press, 9 January 2008]

LONDON (AP) — Joan Ingpen, an influential classical music manager who played a major role in the career of Luciano Pavarotti, has died at age 91. Ingpen died Dec. 29 after a short illness in her home town Hove, near Brighton, funeral director Eric de Chalon said Wednesday.

Posted by Gary at 1:53 PM

Maazel at the Met, Brünnhilde in a Bind

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI [NY Times, 9 January 2008]

As soon as Lorin Maazel appeared in the pit at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night to conduct the season’s first performance of Wagner’s “Walküre,” he received a sustained ovation from the audience. At 77, after an inexplicable 45-year absence, Mr. Maazel has finally returned to the Met. Facing high expectations, he delivered, conducting a lucidly textured, rhythmically incisive and strongly conceived account of this touchstone opera and winning what looked to be very respectful applause from the orchestra musicians when he took a solo curtain call at the end of the five-hour evening.

Posted by Gary at 1:31 PM

January 7, 2008

ROUSSEAU: Le Devin du Village

Although it was the first time a composer had written his own libretto, and Rousseau wanted to demonstrate a new method of setting French text to music in the Italian taste, the dramatic pacing leaves much to be desired and the quality of musical composition is uneven. Some of the musical numbers are quite catchy (Colette’s entrance aria “J’ai perdu tout mon bonheur,” for example, was said to have been sung all day long, off-key, by King Louis XV on the day following the first court performance) but others, such as the muddily-scored “Colin revient à sa bergère,” are aimless, weak, and interminable. Charles Burney, who adapted the opera for English-speaking audiences in the 1770s, thought it went on far too long after Colette and Colin find true love and happiness. He was right, but eighteenth-century audiences apparently disagreed: the opera racked up at least 350 performances in its first fifty years.

This production, by rising young performers in the first year of an annual summer opera festival at the Swiss Castle Waldegg (a Baroque jewel, see the pictures at http://www.schloss-waldegg.ch/), is classified as a live performance, but it is almost completely free of the drawbacks of live recordings: no coughing or clapping, no clumping feet or fade-outs as the singers move around, and good balance between singers and orchestra. The CD, co-produced by Swiss Radio DRS 2, contains the complete opera — except for a few verses of one seemingly-endless ensemble number — including recitatives, a pantomime, and a ballet divertissement. An almost-complete libretto is included: the song texts are all there, but Rousseau’s stage directions for the pantomime are not. The lengthy pantomime music sounds pointless unless you know the accompanying story about a village girl, her sweetheart, and a courtier with a diamond necklace, which starts off like a farmer’s-daughter joke and but ends as a mini-morality play.

The singing is pleasing and competent, as is the period-instrument band. The CD booklet is mostly silent about the nature of the orchestra, which is a shame, because the Cantus Firmus Consort overcomes the limitations of their 18th-century instruments rather well, especially the maniacally energetic bassoonist. It appears that for this performance Rousseau’s scoring (doubled or tripled strings, continuo, and pairs of oboes and flutes), has been augmented by horns, tambour and bells. The extra percussion works well, as it is mostly used on instrumental dances, but the raucous horns (probably big-throated German/Bohemian hunting horns, rather than the smaller and more delicate French instrument) are too prominent and too continuous for the early 1750s, when horns were still a novelty in Paris orchestras.

The Soothsayer (Le Devin), Dominik Wörner, is an agreeable and agile baritone, although his German vowels sometimes get the better of his French diction. Michael Feyfar does well for a modern tenor attempting to reproduce the 18th century French haute-contre voice, but he has to use his head voice a bit too often in the upper range, and only sometimes achieves a smooth passage between the two ranges. The star of the show (both in Rousseau’s plot and in this performance) is Colette (soprano Gabriela Bürgler); her tone is natural, light, and silvery, her ornamented repeats in the arias are tasteful, and her rage aria “Si des gallants de la ville” causes sparks to fly.

Beverly Wilcox
University of California, Davis

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Devin.png image_description=Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Le Devin du Village product=yes product_title=Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Le Devin du Village product_by=Cantus Firmus Kammerchor & Consort; Gabriela Bürgler, soprano; Michael Feyfar, tenor; Dominik Wörner, baritone; Andreas Reize, conductor product_id=CPO 777-260-2 (CD) price=$15.99 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=176237
Posted by Gary at 4:06 PM

Les Élémens

According to the composer’s preface to the published score, the opening fortissimo chord, containing all seven notes of the scale, represents “that confusion which reigned between the elements before the moment when . . . they took the places prescribed for them by the nature’s order.” What follows is literally chaotic: each of the elements has its own leitmotif and key, and they clash and conflict in nearly random fashion. A throbbing bass note represents Earth; Water is a flute scale; Air is a series of flute trills, and Fire is represented by high, rapid violin notes; they resolve themselves into a coherent and dramatic D minor tonality only at the end of the movement. What follows is a pleasant, but far more pedestrian, ballet suite in D major, intended for the Paris Opéra.

Although Les Élémens was originally written for an orchestra of about fifty players, the published version is set up to permit concert performance by two violins, two flutes and a bass, or private performance by violin and harpsichord, or by harpsichord alone. Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, in this digital remastering of an analog recording that won the French Grand prix du disque in the early days of the historical performance movement, thus fall somewhere in the middle, with an ensemble of about twenty which includes future superstars Monica Huggett and Simon Standage. Two all-digital recordings of Les Élémens are currently available from Les Musiciens du Louvre (1993) and Musica Antiqua Köln (1995); both of them use approximately the same performing forces. To hear the chamber version, one must track down the hard-to-get recording by the Palladian Ensemble (Linn Records, U.K., 2003).

The other work on this CD is a suite of excerpts from another ballet, also entitled Les Élémens. Rebel was probably familiar it, since the six-year-old King Louis XV danced in its first performance in 1721. The booklet lists it as being composed by André Cardinal Destouches, who was at that time the Inspector General of the Paris Opéra, but many of the movements were actually among the last works of court composer Michel-Richard de Lalande. The recording includes the overture, the “Air” numbers, and the “Water” numbers, and the “Fire” chaconne. Unlike the Rebel piece, little attempt is made to represent the elements programmatically. Lalande and Destouches rely on the scenery and costumes; the overture contains no vestige of the “fire spouting from volcanoes” that would have been visible onstage. Although this work is far more conventional than the Rebel piece, it is still well worth hearing, and the Academy’s recording appears to be the only one currently available.

Beverly Wilcox
University of California, Davis

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Elements.png image_description=Jean-Féry Rebel, André Cardinal Destouches: Les Élémens product=yes product_title=Jean-Féry Rebel, André Cardinal Destouches: Les Élémens product_by=The Academy of Ancient Music, Christopher Hogwood, conductor product_id=Decca (L’Oiseau-Lyre) 475 9100 [CD] price=$11.98 product_url=http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Drilldown?name_id1=9953&name_role1=1&comp_id=123920&bcorder=15&name_id=61745&name_role=4
Posted by Gary at 3:32 PM

January 3, 2008

Oppenheimer opera charts new course in music

That is one thing that makes John Adams’ “Doctor Atomic” unique among recent American operas. At the same time, the success of the work gives hope that the national ear is not totally deaf to the urgency that speaks so strongly from this account of the anxious hours leading up to the first explosion of a nuclear bomb in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945. “Doctor Atomic,” directed by sometimes enfant terrible Peter Sellars, who also wrote the libretto, was premiered by the San Francisco Opera in 2005. Following performances in Amsterdam last summer, the Chicago Lyric Opera has revived the SFO staging as a major event of its current season.

Adams first tried his hand at contemporary history in 1987 with “Nixon in China.” And Sellars — as Edward Said commented on his work with Hindemith’s “Mathis der Mahler” in London in 1986 — is one of the few in this country “who connect opera to an ongoing social political debate” in an effort to combat “the prevailing belief that operas are essentially harmless, if not completely antiseptic.” There is obviously nothing either harmless or antiseptic about “Doctor Atomic,” defined by Adams as “an unflinching drama of contemporary humanity in crisis.” And the acute sense of crisis in today’s world, where leaders threaten the use of nuclear weapons with the ease that their forefathers played with tin soldiers, underscores the sense of urgency felt in the audiences that pack the city’s Lyric Theatre for eight performances beginning in December and continuing on into January.

The 1945 detonation of “the Gadget,” as those involved in the Manhattan Project called that first bomb, stands as the major turning point in all of human history, for with it mankind unleashed a power capable not only of heretofore unknown destruction, but able even to destroy the earth itself. The fear shared of igniting the atmosphere that haunted Robert J. Oppenheimer, father of the first bomb, informs “Doctor Atomic” from beginning to end, and Adams has done an incredible job of expressing it — in part through electronically generated sounds woven seamlessly into the score — to create what he has called “a post-nuclear holocaust landscape.” The opera ends openly at “zero minus one,” leaving the audience to deal with the consequences of the scientists’ “success” in the desert. It is thus an intentionally discomforting work about events, the relevance of which has grown immensely over the past half century.

Gerald Finley (l.) stars as Robert Oppenheimer and Richard Paul Fink (r.) stars as Edward Teller in the Peter Sellars-directed Doctor Atomic, a Lyric Opera of Chicago premiere for the 2007-08 season. Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago.Gerald Finley (l.) stars as Robert Oppenheimer and Richard Paul Fink (r.) stars as Edward Teller in the Peter Sellars-directed Doctor Atomic, a Lyric Opera of Chicago premiere for the 2007-08 season. Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Sellars, drawing deftly upon documentary material — much of it only recently made public — and poetry to which deeply intellectual Oppenheimer and his troubled wife Kitty were attached — stresses that the physicist in his challenge of the unknown was the Faust of the 20th century, and he pairs him tellingly with Mephistophelean Edward Teller, later famous as the mastermind of the hydrogen bomb. It is the confrontation of Oppenheimer’s intellectual honesty with Teller’s lust for power that elevates “Doctor Atomic” beyond “mere” art in its concert for moral and ethical issues.

The Lyric is fortunate in having five of the SFO principles in its cast, and Canadian baritone Gerald Finley is even more of a dead ringer for nervous, chain-smoking Oppenheimer than he was at the premiere. And Richard Paul Fink, the reigning Alberich in today’s “Ring” cycles, makes Teller more threatening that he was two years ago. Highlight of the Chicago staging, seen on December 18, was Finley’s delivery of the haunting “Batter my heart, three-person’d God,” that concludes Act One. (The text is by John Donne.)

Jessica Rivera stars as Kitty Oppenheimer in the Peter Sellars-directed Doctor Atomic, a Lyric Opera of Chicago premiere for the 2007-08 season. Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago.Jessica Rivera stars as Kitty Oppenheimer in the Peter Sellars-directed Doctor Atomic, a Lyric Opera of Chicago premiere for the 2007-08 season. Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago.

In extensive revisions of the score Kitty Oppenheimer is now a soprano, warmly sung by Jessica Rivera, who has made her mark as both as both Nuria and Margarita in Osvaldo Golijov’s “Ainadamar.” One critic called “Am I in your light?,” her Act-One “serenade” of her husband “a bundled Mahlerian adagietto of emotion,” and in Act Two she brings Cassandra-like insight into her exchange with Native-American nursemaid, sung with earthy sensuousness by Lyric studio artist Meredith Arwady.

Despite revisions since the premiere, however, the tension that has the audience writhing in Act One is lost in Act Two, in which the score loses its impulse. It will be interesting to see what further revisions are made when Penny Woolcock directs a totally new production of “Doctor Atomic” at the Met next season.

Conductor Robert Spano, enviously at home with contemporary scores, brings a sharp focus to Adams’ score. Questionable, however, are the largely aimless gyrations of an octet of dancers choreographed by Lucinda Childs.

Peter Sellars sums up “Doctor Atomic” as “a reality that we’re living with every minute,” and the overall excellence of the Chicago staging left no doubt about. Indeed, as Thomas Mann once wrote in another context, the opera focuses attention on a time in which “so much began that has not yet left off beginning.”

The positive response of the Chicago audience is encouraging, for it indicates a willingness — indeed, perhaps a need — for opera that is unafraid to engage itself in compelling and complex issue. True, “Doctor Atomic” will never replace “Carmen” and “Butterfly” in public favor, but its success indicates the existence of a vast number of opera-goers who seek more than mere entertainment. It is a work that demands a critical response from all who see it. And the opera is of particular relevance to Chicago, for it was beneath the football field at the University of Chicago that Enrico Fermi set off the first controlled nuclear chain reaction in history.

A film to watch for

It is sad indeed that a major companion piece to “Doctor Atomic” is largely unavailable to the current audience of the opera. Although “Wonders Are Many: The Making of Doctor Atomic” has been shown at several film festivals, it is not yet available through regular DVD channels.

Made for public television, word is that the film will not be distributed until it has been seen on PBS, and at present no date has been set for its showing there. An engaging counterpoint of details from Oppenheimer’s life and career and the creation of “Doctor Atomic,” the film reflects the same anxiety that accounts for the on-stage apprehension so compellingly portrayed by Sellars and Adams. It is the work of filmmaker Jon Else, whose credits include award-winning documentary on Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project “The Day After Trinity” Those who see “Doctor Atomic” should watch PBS schedules.

Wes Blomster

image=http://www.operatoday.com/Dr_Atomic_07.png image_description=Gerald Finley stars as Robert Oppenheimer in the Peter Sellars-directed Doctor Atomic, part of Lyric Opera of Chicago's 2007-08 season. Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago. product=yes product_title=Above: Gerald Finley stars as Robert Oppenheimer in the Peter Sellars-directed Doctor Atomic, part of Lyric Opera of Chicago's 2007-08 season. Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Posted by Gary at 10:02 AM

January 2, 2008

Hansel and Gretel, Metropolitan Opera, New York

H_G-106322-0.png(Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera)
By Martin Bernheimer [Financial Times, 1 January 2008]

Remember Hansel and Gretel? Remember Engelbert Humperdinck’s marvellously gooey, quasi-Wagnerian opera about folksy babes in the wood, evil spirits on broomsticks, winged angels selling solace, sentimental piety über alles and rose-coloured salvation? Forget it.

Posted by Gary at 8:25 AM