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

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

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.

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

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):