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 Recordings

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

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.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.

Mahler Symphony no 9, Daniel Harding SRSO

Mahler Symphony no 9 in D major, with Daniel Harding conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, new from Harmonia Mundi. A rewarding performance on many levels, not least because it's thoughtfully sculpted, connecting structure to meaning.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Harrison Birtwistle: The Minotaur
27 Mar 2010

Harrison Birtwistle: The Minotaur

Premiered on 15 April 2008, The Minotaur is Harrison Birtwistle’s latest opera, and it stands well with the composer’s other stage work.

Harrison Birtwistle: The Minotaur

The Minotaur: John Tomlinson; Theseus: Johan Reuter; Ariadne: Christine Rice; Snake Priestess: Andrew Watts; Hiereus: Philip Langridge; Ker: Amanda Echalaz. The Royal Opera Chorus. The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Antonio Pappano, conductor. Stephen Langridge, stage director. Recorded live at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden on 25, 30 April and 3 May 2008.

OABD7052D [Blu-Ray DVD]

$45.98  Click to buy

This disc is based on later performances of the opera, which were given on 25 and 30 April and 3 May 2008 and released on Blu-Ray in 2010. The work is a retelling of the myth of the Cretan minotaur, specifically the culmination of the story in which the Greek hero Theseus survives the labyrinth and rescues Ariadne from the legendary beast. With its libretto in English by David Harsent, the text is a modern retelling, which presents the story in plain and direct terms; the music, as related in the accompanying booklet, has its origins in various sources, including Birtwistle’s Earthdances (1985). The Minotaur also resembles the two-part structure of the composer’s well-known opera Gawain and the Green Knight (2000), a narrative in which a hero also encounters a legendary figure, and in doing so reaches new perspectives about himself. At the same time The Minotaur is an opportunity of the composer to return to the milieu of classical mythology, which he had explored in The Mask of Orpheus (1984).

The Minotaur is a substantial work of about three hours, and its two parts contain a series of scenes in which the story unfolds, starting with the monologue of Ariadne, whose unique perspective offers Theseus an advantage in dealing with the Minotaur. The scenes reflect a structure in which ideas recur, as shown in the following outline: Part 1: (1) Arrival; Toccata 1; (2) The Choice; (3) The Labyrnith; (4) Ariadne; (5) The Labyrinth; Toccata 2; (6) The Minotaur dreams; (7) The Labyrinth; [Intermission]; Part 2: (8) A proposition; Toccata 3; (9) The Minotaur dream; (10) The oracle of Psychro; (11) A blind bargain; (12) The Labyrinth; (13) The death of the Minotaur. The instrumental toccatas function like the instrumental interludes in Berg’s Wozzeck and also allow the audience an opportunity to reflect on the text just presented. Toccata 1, for example, shows Theseus contemplating the situation at the outset in a particularly intriguing juxtaposition with the undulating sea with which the opera opens. The latter image recurs with Toccata 2, which also precedes the first episode of the Minotaur dreaming. The Minotaur, who is actually Ariadne’s half-brother Asterios, refers to the sea, which seems to be a form of escape to the world outside the Labyrinth in which he is imprisoned. The Labyrinth itself is a kind of arena, and the crowd looking on jeers at the Minotaur as much as they comment on the battles with the prisoners in the Labyrinth, with Ariadne seemingly officiating, sometimes from the seats above, other times from the floor of the arena.

One of the more effective scenes is scene 12, the final evocation of the Labyrinth, the projection of a maze being drawn around the stage and framing John Tomlinson as the Minotaur is particularly effective. This leads to the final confrontation in which Theseus slays the Minotaur, and in dying Asterios the Minotaur recovers his humanity. This work is an exploration of personal discovery, and the music functions as a vehicle for the text, while also serving as a means of setting the tone. The sometimes percussive music conveys a sense of the brutal forces at work in this score. While it is difficult to assign any number a kind of aria or arioso character, the music nevertheless allows for some expressive passages, as with the Minotaur’s final monologue, which is key to understanding this fable. If this death scene is prolonged, a convention in opera, it is to call attention to the nature of the Minotaur and the way in which the environment of the Labyrinth contributed to his own self-definition. Theseus may have slain the Minotaur, but that act is not the focus of this work. However heroic one may wish Theseus to be, that is not his function in Birtwistle’s opera, where the famed Greek hero serves as the vehicle of fate and the fulfiller of a bargain with Ariadne. Again, Birtwistle’s score is key to setting the tone, with concepts expressed in text underscored by the accompanying music. The whole is good drama, a stage work that engages the audience in the quest for self-discovery through the final moment, when the Harpy who brought the first part of the work to its conclusion makes the final gesture. Ariadne, whose actions influenced the dénouement, has already worked out her fate, with THeseus serving as her instrument in bringing the Cretan Labyrinth to its conclusion.

The principals are uniformly effective, with Christine Rice standing out as Ariadne, who embodies her character. For this work, Birtwistle has fleshed out the character of Ariadne more fully than some composers have depicted her, an element that requires the finesse Rice brings through her singing and acting. As Theseus, Johan Reuter is also persuasive, but it is John Tomlinson who remains memorable in creating the image of the Minotaur and giving him voice. Through the artifice of the costume, Tomlinson contributes a sense of humanity to this mythic creature, a crucial aspect of this work. The chorus itself works well within the staging, as they serve as commentators on the scenes and also contribute to the setting.

This recording benefits from the high-definition imaging of Blu-Ray technology, along with excellent sound, which serve well to preserve the details of this premiere recording. The sometimes dark sets, especially the opening sea-blues, emerge with definition in this medium, and that helps to give a sense of being present at the performances. The crisp images help to bring the sense of immediacy to the staging, with the details bringing the costumes and sets into the overall effect of this well-thought production. More importantly, the clear images of the performers are preferable to the sometimes distant shots of singers involved with some opera videos. In a similar way, the clarity of the sound helps to bring out the distinctions of timbre that Birtwistle used in his score. The English-language text is always distinct, and reinforced by the subtitles in English, German, French, and Italian.

The disc also includes a documentary about the opera, Myth Is Universal, which offers some useful perspectives for rehearing the work. Those interested in the opera can also use the synopsis, which serves as a fine introduction to the opera in the manner of a plot summary found in the programs of live operas. As a whole these elements work together to introduce and explicate an important new score, a successful new opera on an ancient theme, and this recording preserves in fine sonic and visual detal the staging with which it premiered.

James L. Zychowicz

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):