Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Jiří Bělohlávek : new editions of Janáček Glagolitic Mass, Sinfonietta

From Decca, Janáček classics with Jiří Bělohlávek conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Given that Bělohlávek died in May 2017, all these recordings are relatively recent, not re-issues, and include performances of two new critical editions of the Glagolitic Mass and the Sinfonietta.

Arabella in San Francisco

A great big guy in a great big fur coat falls in love with the photo of the worldly daughter of a compulsive gambler. A great big conductor promotes the maelstrom of great big music that shepherds all this to ecstatic conclusion.

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

New Hans Zender Schubert Winterreise - Julian Prégardien

Hans Zender's Schuberts Winterreise is now established in the canon, but this recording with Julian Prégardien and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie conducted by Robert Reimer is one of the most striking. Proof that new work, like good wine, needs to settle and mature to reveal its riches.

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

The Mozart Album
09 Sep 2009

Danielle de Niese: The Mozart Album

After thoroughly enjoying Daneille de Niese’s recording Handel Arias, I jumped at the chance to review her new recording, The Mozart Album. Her Handel interpretation was full of coloratura, clarity and virtuosity, along with an organic fusion of music serving drama. So I was eager to hear her perform Mozart.

The Mozart Album

Danielle de Niese, soprano; Bryn Terfel, bass-baritone. Apollo Voices. Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Sir Charles Mackerras, conducting.

478 1511 2

$13.99  Click to buy

The Mozart Album, however, is a cautionary tale of sorts that serves as a reminder that Mozart is not to be taken lightly. Ask any vocalist or instrumentalist, Mozart is the most difficult composer to perform. Why? Mozart demands technical perfection, a superior level of musicianship, subtle phrasing and a command of the musical drama. In short, he demands everything!

In The Mozart Album, de Niese runs the gamut of repertoire from sacred arias, to concert arias, to opera arias, and, finally, to a duet with baritone Bryn Terfel. She begins with Exsultate, jubilate (K165), a motet for soprano, organ, and orchestra in three movements. Throughout, de Niese displays incredibly accurate coloratura lines gleaming with color. Notably absent, however, are a consistent legato and warmth in the lines. At times there is a strange straight-tone quality within the phrases that make no stylistic sense and that tends to distract the listener. While the first two movements are lacking in drama, she performs “Alleluia, ” the third movement and certainly the crown jewel of the motet, with high-flying coloratura lines and finessed phrasing. These inconsistencies in performance quality, unfortunately, plague The Mozart Album.

In the concert aria “Bella mia fiamma, addio!,” Ms. de Niese’s performance is much more secure with support and warm returning to the voice, even in the legato lines. The opening recitative is infused with drama from the outset, the escalating phrases captivating the listener. Within the aria, there are brilliant, but fleeting, moments of clarity. Throughout the aria, the listener can hear air escaping during the execution of the tone, making the sound quite fuzzy. “Bella mia fiamma” requires strength in the tone because of its bold harmonic nature and expansive range, and without that, the intended effect of the piece is lost.

If the purpose of The Mozart Album is to “show her stuff,” de Niese’s selection of “Al desio di chi t’adora” is a puzzlement. One of many alternate arias to “Deh, vieni, non tardar, ” “Al desio” pales against “Deh, vieni,” the greatest test of the lyric soprano that demands excruciating long lines, incredible vocal support, delicate shaping within the vocal lines, and an ability to release the drama while maintaining control. Instead, “Al desio” gives us more of the same — short phrases and an abundance of coloratura — all with a lack of sensitivity.

The middle selections are the highpoint of this recording, which include “Una donna a quindici anni,” “Padre, germani, addio!”, and “Ah! fuggi il traditor.” Despina’s aria is full of fiery energy, the Italian facilitating her brilliant comic vocal lines. The aria from Idomeneo, the first of Mozart’s great operas, is quite similar to Handel’s writing style, although Mozart injects more drama within the music and utilizes more complicated forms and harmonic structures than Handel. Ms. de Niese seems to be at her most comfortable in this piece. The aria is full of moving lines and coloratura, the tessitura particularly highlighting the beautiful parts of her voice.

Donna Elvira’s aria “Ah! fuggi il traditor!” from Giovanni proves a pleasant surprise. De Neise comments, “Although I have not yet sung Elvira on the stage, this aria really represents the direction I’m heading in vocally, as my voice is growing a lot.” Her Elvira is bursting with anger, and she seems to grab hold of the extensive range and disjunct intervals with power and ease. This aria is a tour de force, but inasmuch as it is less than two minutes in duration, it is difficult to discern whether her voice is capable of singing the entire role. I am hopeful that she continues to move in this stronger, fuller lyric direction.

The penultimate selection is the duet “La chi darem la mano” from Don Giovanni, performed with Bryn Terfel. Ms. de Niese follows his lead regarding the musical phrases, and allows much more finesse to shape her vocal line. But, the final selection, “Laudate Dominum” (from Vesperae solennes de confessoreis (K339)), is another disappointment. This piece requires considerable vocal control and support to navigate the large leaps and long, soaring phrases. Yet, in endeavoring to maintain the solemn character of the piece, her performance lacks the energy that predominates in her highly dramatic selections. Also, the Apollo Voices are not polished in the choral comments. There is a lack of blend, with the phrasing being more disjointed than soaring and Mozartian.

This album says a great deal about Ms. de Niese’s vocal direction. Her voice continues to maneuver coloratura with great aplomb, yet the legato lines that are needed for her to move into fuller lyric coloratura repertoire are not yet worked out. In the liner notes, Brian Dickie reveals that many of the pieces on this album were first performed in the soprano’s high school years, and I suspect that her technical delivery of this music is influenced by her initial exposure to the repertoire. Perhaps another Mozart album will bring forth the fuller, dramatic repertoire that Ms. de Niese is growing into. And I suspect that as her voice grows into its own, her Mozart will become fuller, more grounded, and easily shaped to truly convey the composer’s musical and dramatic intentions.

Sarah Luebke

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):