Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Il Trovatore at Dutch National Opera

Four lonely people, bound by love and fate, with inexpressible feelings that boil over in the pressure cooker of war. Àlex Ollé’s conception of Il Trovatore for Dutch National Opera hits the bull’s eye.

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



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):