Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

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.

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

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.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.



Farinelli — Il Castrato
29 Mar 2009

Farinelli — Il Castrato

Naïve re-releases the soundtrack to the film Farinelli here in a handsome “book” casing, appending a second disc of highlights from the discography of Christophe Rousset’s recordings with Les Talens Lyriques, the artists also responsible for the soundtrack.

Farinelli — Il Castrato

Ewa Malas-Godlewska, Derek Lee Ragin, Christophe Rousset, Sandrine Piau, Wieland Kuijken, Agnès Mellon, Carlo Lepore, Maria Bayo. Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset.

Naïve 5150 [2CDs]

$29.99  Click to buy

This is not, however, the typical film soundtrack of a sort of overture, perhaps a song or two, and various musical cues that don’t convey much out of the context of the film. Disc one consists of eleven complete performances of arias and overtures, from composers as famous as Handel and Pergolese (as the Naive booklet spells it) to the relatively obscure, such as Broschi and Idaspe (a particularly lovely piece, Ombra fedele anch’io).

A brief booklet note titled “Reinventing a castrato’s voice” details the unique feature of this soundtrack: the producers, in conjunction with the Institut de Recherches et Coordination Acoustique Musique, found a way in the studio to meld the voice of a counter-tenor (Derek Lee Ragin) with that of a soprano (Ewa Mallas-Godlewska). The intention was to capture something of what a true castrato sounded like, with an extraordinary range and a timbre that, at least supposedly, retained masculine authority while climbing stratospheric heights. Technically, IRCAM produced a seamless blend; it is not easily apparent when and where the two voices separate or shift primarily to one or the other singer. Nonetheless, there are many moments where Ragin’s counter-tenor, a somewhat reedy instrument, clearly predominates, and others where the feminine sound Mallas-Godlewska produces come to the fore. As an aural experience, then, your reviewer did not find the vocals suggesting any true sense of a castrato sound — with the big caveat that it is not entirely possible to know what that sound might have been, especially in the case of a superstar of his time, as Farinelli was.

The two tracks of arias from Handel’s Rinaldo exemplify the problem of the recording. In music as familiar as “Lascia ch’io pianga” or “Cara sposa,” listeners may well have heard superior versions by singers such as David Daniels or Maria Bayo. The innovation of a recording process that ostensibly captures a castrato sound can’t make up for the fact that the vocal performances captured here just aren’t all that special.

Rousset and his band play immaculately, and listeners who prefer the leaner, tauter sound of historically-informed performances will surely enjoy their efforts. While respecting the musicianship, your reviewer often longed for a richer string sound and more body overall. Somehow, the selections on the second disc, covering many other Rousset and Les Talens Lyrique recordings, didn’t produce the same dissatisfaction. Overtures and other brief instrumental pieces by Lully, Johann Sebastian Bach and his son Carl Philip Emanuel, Purcell, Salieri, and others receive joyous, exuberant performances. Naïve makes its reason for the inclusion of this disc along with the Farinelli soundtrack clear, with the last pages of the booklet dedicated to cover shots of the CDs from which the music was taken.

In your reviewer’s memory, Farinelli was a very entertaining film. If a high-quality DVD of the film were available, that should receive due consideration, as the performances work very well in conjunction with the visuals. But the set does offer handsome packaging and that enjoyable second disc of material.

Chris Mullins

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):