06 Jul 2008
Two Aida’s from TDK
At one time, Verdi’s Aida figured as the most performed opera.
Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, first heard in 1907, once seemed important. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Met premiere in 1911 with Farrar and later arranged some of its music for a 1947 recording with his NBC Symphony.
The economics of the recording companies dictate much that is not ideal. Wagner’s operas were not composed as they were in order to permit the extraction of bleeding chunks, even on those occasions when strophic song forms do occur.
Among the recent recordings of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Valery Gergiev’s release on the LSO Live label is an excellent addition to the discography of this work.
While not unknown, the songs of Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) deserve to be heard more frequently.
Recorded on 5 and 6 May 2008 and 17 and 18 January 2009 at the Lisztzentrum (Raiding, Austria), this recent Bridge release makes available the piano-vocal versions of three song cycles by Gustav Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Rückert-Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder performed by mezzo-soprano Hermine Haselböck, accompanied by Russell Ryan.
Contraltos rarely achieve the acclaim and renown of sopranos. Assigned few leading roles in opera, they are condemned to playing the villain or the grandmother, or to stealing the castrati’s trousers in en travesti roles.
Following their 2011 Decca recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (1566), I Fagiolini continue their quest to unearth lost treasures of the High Renaissance and early Baroque, with this collection of world-premiere recordings, ‘reconstructions’ and ‘reconstitutions’ of music by Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Palestrina, and their less well-known compatriots Viadana, Barbarino and Soriano.
Eternal Echoes is an album of khazones [Jewish cantorial music] for cantorial soloist, solo violin and a blended instrumental ensemble comprising a small orchestra and the Klezmer Conservatory Band.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Mahler’s Third Symphony is an outstanding contribution to the composer’s discography.
Oliver Knussen burst into British music with an unprecedented flourish. In 1967, the London Symphony Orchestra premiered Knussen’s First Symphony, with István Kertész scheduled to conduct.
Based on performances given in Summer 2010 at the Lucerne Festival, this recording of Beethoven’s Fidelio is an admirable recording that captures the vitality of the work as conducted by Claudio Abbado.
Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) was one of the most popular composers of his day in Poland, and of the many works he wrote for the stage, two are performed from time to time, Halka (1848) and Strazny dwór [The Haunted Manor] (1865).
The Polish alto Jadwiga Rappé is a familiar voice in various stage and concert works, and the recent release of a selection of songs by Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) is an opportunity to hear her performing artsongs.
Originally released on multiple discs in 1981 this reissue on two CDs is a comprehensive collection of art songs by Italian and French composers from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
An exciting contribution to the discography of this popular opera, the live performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome from the Festspielhaus at Baden-Baden is a compelling DVD.
Released in late 2011, Deutsche Grammophon’s DVD of the new staging of Berg’s Lulu at the Gran Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona is an excellent contribution to the discography of this fascinating opera.
A recent release by the Metropolitan Opera, this two-disc set makes available on DVD the famous performance of Berg’s Lulu that was broadcast on 20 December 1980 as part of the PBS series “Live from the Met.”
The novels of Sinclair Lewis once shot across the American literary skies like comets, alarming and fascinating readers of that era, but their tails didn’t extend far behind them.
Once the province of only the most dedicated opera fanatics, mid-20th century recordings of privately taped live performances have become more widely available.
Flute players in opera orchestra around the world must look forward to the frequent appearances of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, knowing that while the stage spotlight in the mad scene will be on the soprano, the orchestral spotlight will be on their instrument.
At one time, Verdi’s Aida figured as the most performed opera.
The Metropolitan Opera’s database, for example, shows that it has been performed there more than 1,000 times since November 1886. The number of performances has declined in recent years, largely because of the work’s cost of production, the work’s vocal demands and the work’s relative conservatism. Nonetheless, Aida holds an important place in Verdi’s oeuvre and today’s repertoire. As Roger Parker has noted:
Aida remains the most radical and ‘modern’ of Verdi’s scores: its use of local colour. Aida, constantly alluding to its ambience in harmony and instrumentation, is the one Verdi opera that could not conceivably be transported to another geographical location. In this respect it was an important indication of the influence local colour would come to have over fin-de-siècle opera, and an object lesson on the delicacy and control with which this colour could be applied to the standard forms and expressive conventions of Italian opera.
Roger Parker: ‘Aida’, Grove Music Online (Accessed 25 June 2008).
Before me are DVDs of two highly disparate productions of Aida. One is a production presented at the Arena di Verona. Built in 30 C.E., the Arena is a huge open-air structure that seats 15,000.
The other production by the master of extravaganza, Franco Zeffirelli, comes from Teatro Giuseppe Verdi in Busseto, Verdi’s birthplace. Teatro Giuseppe Verdi barely seats 350; but this lovely theater is truly a small jewel.
Aida is a colossal work that brings out massive ideas in stage design. These two productions live up to that concept perfectly. So I will review these DVDs separately. But I invite the reader to keep in mind the contrasts between these productions as well as their similarities. Those very things are a tribute to the mastery of Verdi.
Teatro Giuseppe Verdi
|Teatro Giuseppe Verdi, Busseto Italy|
|Performance: January 27, 2001 (the 100th anniversary of Verdi’s death)|
|Production designed by Franco Zeffirelli|
|Conductor: Massimilano Steffanelli|
|The King of Egypt||Paolo Pecchioli|
|Ramfis||Enrico Giuseppe Iori|
Coached by Carol Bergonzi and directed by Franco Zeffirelli , this production cast young performers to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Verdi’s death. The size of the theater did not stop Zeffirelli from doing what he does best-spectacle. What actual sets there are look massive and fit the aura of what Aida is supposed to look like. Other dramatic views are achieved through the skillful use of painted or projected back drops. Albeit small, the orchestra was up to the task in the theater’s tiny pit. The flute solo was particularly notable.
The singers, who were then hardly in their 20's, are not well-known. Some may recognize a few of the names, such as Kate Aldrich and Scott Piper.
Piper possesses a nice tenor voice. As Radames, he tentatively tackles “Celeste Aida,” delivering a credible rendition of that monster. He can sing loud and with a robust sound, be it in victory or rejoicing, yet sings tenderly and softly in the last duet.
Kate Aldrich performs Amneris. One does not think of a mezzo tackling this role early in a singer’s career, but Aldrich makes Amneris believable. Although she does not bring the subtlety to it that a Zajick does, that is a learned attribute. Aldrich is sensitive, cunning yet able to demonstrate the insecurity of thinking her chosen man has given his heart to another. When she knows at the end of Act IV that she has lost Radames, her remorse is clearly felt.
It is a bit disconcerting to see the High Priest, the King, and Amanastro so youthful looking and sounding. They are nevertheless believable and refreshing.
Zeffirelli skillfully handles the “big scenes” on the tiny stage. He does not include the ballet for the most part. And the grand triumphal march is presented as a parade that the waving extras look on. We see their backs as they jockey for position to see the spectacle. The music is well played so we do not miss that triumphant moment. As the parade ends, Radames appears in the Temple where the victory ceremony is performed.
There are other nice touches. In Act III Aida sings of her country (“O Patria mia”) as she sits at the banks of the river and reaches into the water to touch it and bring her wet fingers to her face…….almost as holy water. Aaron sings this great aria convincingly.
My favorite portion of Aida is the ending duet. I want it to be tender and loving. These two young singers do it with aplomb.
The costumes are lush and lavish. Soft pastels and vivid reds are well presented. The colors darken as the tragic ending of the opera approaches.
I found this little production refreshing. I appreciated what it must mean to these young singers to work with the masters like Bergonzi and Zeffirelli and to be in a DVD that is in world wide distribution.
Aida at Arena di Verona
|Arena di Verona|
|Performance: August 1992|
|Production directed by Gianfranco De Bosio|
|Conductor: Nello Santi|
|Il Re||Carlo Striuli|
This massive production befits the location. Opera has been presented in the Arena di Verona since 1913. Production designers have been tempted by the vastness of the space available to them, and have often used live animals and enormous sets.
This production follows the traditions of this ancient arena. Huge sets depicting the temple, trumpeters high above the top of the sets and a cast of what seemed like thousands (but probably not quite that many!). There are live horses in the triumphal scene, but no elephants!!
All of the ballet music is there along with the dancers. Nothing is missing in this extravaganza.
Maria Chiara was arguably one of the great Aida’s of her time. She was the partner of many a great Radames, including Luciano Pavarotti. This time frame is late in her career but she still can carry off the role. There are a few rough patches at the top of her voice but not enough to really complain about. Her “O Patria Mia” is lovely and heart wrenching.
When this video was made, Kristjan Johannsson was just beginning his career, which led him to the Met as well as most of the opera houses in Europe. His style is rough and direct. His only voice level is loud. I hesitate to be overly critical in that the location could well be overwhelming and the tenor may have tried to over compensate for that. When a bit of a tender sound is called for, as in the final duet, Johannsson is just not able to produce it. His robust moments, however, are more appropriate.
Juan Pons as Amonastro is worth watching and hearing. He brings to the role the tenderness of a father and the regalness of a King.
Dolora Zajick is a force to be reckoned with. This voice is truly amazing. Her acting ability is everything one would want from this Amneris. She easily makes us hate her, empathize with her and in the end mourn with her. She is one of the great Amneris’ of our time.
Nello Santi is an old pro and the orchestra gets to show off all its skills as it traverses Verdi’s score. We all wait for the trumpets and brass in this opera; but there are some wonderful flute solos, as well.
This video is well worth the time to watch Aida as a huge spectacle and to hear some amazing singing by the women in the cast. With the exception of Pons, one must bear the male performers to enjoy this production.