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Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara -
Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.
It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered
and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has
happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by
Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.
This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the
most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100
songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable
artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan
Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles”
This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa
Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The
Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s
Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical
Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their
40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two
settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according
to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au
bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of
Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at
Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced
disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and
supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by
Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.
20 Oct 2008
Among the recent releases on DVD of Rolf Liebermann's productions of operas from the Hamburg Opera conceived for television in the late 1960s, Beethoven's Fidelio is impressive for the use of the medium of film to bring out the personal aspects of this intensive opera.
The close-ups and intimate settings that are part of the staging make visual sense and support the music well. Based on the staging used at the Hamburg Opera, this recording from 1968 is of more than historic interest. Rather, the unique perspective from this television production conveys the appropriate immediacy to the work that sometimes escapes live performances on stage. The ensemble "Mir ist so wunderbar" becomes here an aside for the principals who are able to step out of the action momentarily to reflect on the situation, and their carefully placement on stage anticipates their roles in the drama as it resumes, notably with Leonore/Fidelio in the forefront, and Rocco in the center.
The cast is uniformly strong, with all the roles cast with some of the finest singers of the day. Anja Silja created a believable Leonore/Fidelio, and her costumes suggests a plausible disguise for the wife who seeks her long-imprisoned husband. Vocally, Silja offers a strong performance in this demanding role. In the aria "Abscheulicher," though Silja's lighter touch allows for security in the upper register of this demanding number. She is, perhaps, less anxious than Karita Mattila in the more recent film of the modern staging presented at the Metropolitan Opera. Likewise, the studio-style sound is a little less immediate in this number, which benefits in stage performances from the intersection of the voice an winds in various passages of this turning point in Fidelio. Most of all, the clarity Silja brings to this aria is noteworthy in itself, and throughout the film Silja's stage presence emerges within the studio performance.
In addition Lucia Popp stands out as an intensive and smart Marzelline, the daughter of the jailer Rocco. Popp's resonant voice is memorable, and the ensembles in which she participates stand out in this recording. Those who did not have the opportunity to hear Popp in performance have the opportunity to see her interact well in this production. Likewise, Richard Cassilly delivers a fine performance as Florestan, which involves not only the vocal inflection necessary for his role as the long-imprisoned husband, but also suggests the confinement in his movements and facial gestures. His Ernst Wiemann is a solid Rocco, a role that sounds at once familiar and believable. The other cast members are fine, particularly Theo Adam, who performed the role of Pizzaro into the mid-1980s.
The production itself makes use of traditional settings effectively, and the intimacy that comes from close-ups enhances the drama. The scene with the entrance of the prisoners is particularly effective, as the ensemble emerges as a body and reacts simultaneously to the rare opportunity to be in the open air. It is unfortunate that the television production did not begin with the play of light that occurs in the middle of the number. Nevertheless, the blocking that accompanies the "O Freiheit" section creates a fine effect and the subdued intonations among solo voices are remarkably effective in this staging.
The events in the second act work well in this film, as the set design and director create a sense of depth in the scene that involves Florestan. While conventional stagings laudable present the scene in various, creative ways on stage, the medium of film allows for the illusory effect of being within the prison and removed from the more light-filled action of the preceding act. As in earlier, scenes, the camera allows a sense of intimacy such that Leonore can communicate with Florestan, even while Rocco is occupied with his task, and this contributes to the tension that leads to the dénouement, where Leonore reveals her identity and stymies Pizzaro. Silja fulfills the promise she expressed in the previous act, while never upstaging Richard Cassilly in his role as her spouse. Both performers work well together in the final scene, which is also laudable for its faithfulness to the Spanish setting of the opera.
Arthaus deserves credit for restoring and making available this and other television productions of operas from 1968 and 1969. Unlike the operas televised in the United States, which often brought the stage to the small screen, this series of broadcasts from Germany reconceived productions from the Hamburg Opera for the idiom. In a way the American broadcasts from Wolftrap aired in the 1970s owe a debt to these groundbreaking films by Lieberman. Some, like the production of Penderecki's Die Teufel von Loudon brought new works to a wide audience, while others, like this one of Fidelio, preserve a conventional staging with an excellent cast. While Arthaus acknowledges that this DVD and others are restorations, the imperfections are relatively minor and should by no means detract from appreciating the efforts. This is a fine Fidelio that deserves attention not only for historic interest, but also on its own merits.
James L. Zychowicz