Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Rolando Villazón — Handel
31 Mar 2009

Rolando Villazón — Handel

When considering his next recording project, notes Rolando Villazón, the idea of working on a set of Handel arias with Paul McCreesh was “not an obvious choice.”

Rolando Villazón — Handel

Deutsche Grammophon 00289 477 8057 (Int'l deluxe ed.)
Deutsche Grammophon 00289 477 8056 (Int'l ed.)

$21.99  Click to buy

This, of course, is an understatement: the idea of teaming a rising young opera star, most comfortable in the world of verismo opera, with a baroque specialist and his period-instrument orchestra to perform Handel is audacious, and at first sight, wildly inappropriate. But what issues from this unusual union is something quite remarkable, and at times, stunning. In a year in which there will be many tributes commemorating the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death, this may be one of the most surprising, and satisfying.

This recording features selections from four Handel operas — Tamerlano (1724), Rodelinda (1725), Serse (1738), and Ariodante (1735) — as well as two arias from La Resurrezione (1709), an oratorio from the composer’s Roman period. A number of the arias were not written originally for tenor, and have been transposed in this performance to better fit the voice of Villazón. Although purists may be offended by these changes, one must remember that during the age of Handel it was not unusual for arias to be transposed, sung in a different language from the recitative, or modified in any number of ways. Indeed, Joseph Addison, who wrote the first reviews of Handel’s operas in the early eighteenth century, observed that opera was “a joining together of inconsistencies.” If Handel could accept a castrato in the role of a man or a woman, singing emperors who sailed in open boats on a sea of paste-board, or singing witches lowered onto stage by ropes while fireworks were lit in the theatre (with emergency equipment at the ready should fire break out), we should be able to deal with Rolando Villazón singing castrato arias in different keys.

The performances by Villazón and McCreesh bring together the best of both worlds — exacting period-performance standards with operatic intensity. Throughout much of the recording Villazón’s voice exhibits a brilliance which is perfectly matched with the drama Handel wished to express in his music. The melismas, rapid passage work, and unusual leaps found in such arias as “Ciel e terra” from Tamerlano, or the recitative accompagnato “Fatto inferno è il mio petto” from Rodelinda, were written for dramatic effect, effects not altogether different from those required of a soloist in La Traviata or La Bohème. In these arias Villazón brings all of his trademark intensity to bear, and by so doing reveals a deep respect and affection for the music. His singing is never overpowering, his attention to the text is impressive, and his uncanny ability to match the tone quality of a baroque orchestra by moving in and out of straight-tone and vibrato are so expressive that one might think he had studied this type of music all his life. This recording is a tribute not just to his musicality, but to his intelligence.

Although some of the most popular of Handel’s Italian arias (e.g., “Ombra mai fu” from Serse) are included in this collection, the highpoint is undoubtedly “Scherza, infida” from Ariodante. McCreesh’s masterful handling of the muted string accompaniment along with Villazon’s astonishing tone and sensitivity makes this performance a treat irresistible to any lover of Handel. Similarly haunting is “Pastorello d’un povero armento” from Rodelinda, although in this aria Villazón’s normally strong Italian diction sometimes deserts him. While not all listeners may enjoy Bajazet’s death scene from Tamerlano, the expressive treatment of the dying sultan’s final moments is exactly what audiences in Handel’s day would have enjoyed. Indeed, Villlazón and McCreesh probably come as close as anyone to recreating the magical world of baroque opera with their obsessive and over-the-top interpretation of the lines “per tormentar, per lacerar, quell mostro io sarò la maggior furia d’Averno.”

It is well-known that Villazón has been struggling vocally of late, and this CD represents one of his first serious efforts since his year-long hiatus in 2007. To those who enjoy the pure beauty of his remarkable tenor voice, this collection will provide much pleasure and the assurance that he is again singing beautifully. To those who wish to gain a better understanding and appreciation of Handel, particularly listeners who are familiar only with The Messiah or Royal Fireworks Music, this set of arias will be an excellent introduction into the complexity and sophistication found so abundantly in the composer’s Italian vocal works.

Donald R. Boomgaarden

Click here for behind the scenes interviews

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):