01 Apr 2010
Otello (Salzburg Festival 2008) on Blu-Ray
There are two reasons why you need to see the new Otello DVD (Salzburg Festival 2008).
Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.
Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.
It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.
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.
Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.
This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).
This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.
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.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
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.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
There are two reasons why you need to see the new Otello DVD (Salzburg Festival 2008).
The first is the soprano Marina Poplavskaya, a nearly perfect Desdemona, despite the fact that she’s in no way fragile, shy, or ingenuous. Her emotions span the whole Shakespearean range from extreme tenderness to subdued anger — she’s a Desdemona to be reckoned with. Shakespeare includes a wit-contest between Iago and Desdemona, a scene missing from the opera and often cut from the play, in which Desdemona shows a playful, even flashy side — Poplavskaya gives us this intelligence and more. And her singing is beautiful: during the last “Salce!” in the second verse of the “Willow Song,” she fines her voice down until it sounds like the English horn that’s about to echo it, as if you weren’t sure where the singing stopped and the soulless nymph in the orchestra began. (All the singing in this performance is beautiful, though Aleksandrs Antonenko, the Otello, and Carlos Álvarez, the Jago, are both somewhat stolid, monochromatic presences, one all hysterical impulse, the other all forthright snarl.)
The second reason is Riccardo Muti’s decision to include the rarely-heard 1894 Paris version of the Act 3 finale, in which Verdi thinned the texture of the choral-orchestral mass. This has the advantage that Iago’s instructions to Roderigo to kill Cassio can be clearly understood, but great disadvantage that the surge of energy, the urgent darkening that begins when Iago sings “Una parola,” never manifests itself — the familiar 1887 version is the more powerful experience. The director Stephen Langridge, in the Salzburg production, casts a green light over the actors in this scene, providing a Shakespearean touch missing from the opera: Iago tells Othello to beware a green-eyed monster, but Jago tells Otello to fear a dark, blind, living hydra — “occhi verdi” never appear in Boito’s text.
Langridge’s production is better to think about than to look at, though he provides a sort of framed mini-stage at the center, and it occasionally appears that Jago is showing Otello a slide show of infidelity — I like that. Langridge takes tremendous care with the choral scenes: “Fuoco di gioia!” shows some bawdy women nearly raping a young boy, as if Jago, all horned evil, were in charge of the staging even before the plot is hatched; and during “Dove guardi splendono” Desdemona is given first a conch, then a small plaster statue of Venus — Langridge was clearly remembering “Venere splende” in Act 1, Otello’s last words in the love duet. During the vengeance duet Otello will smash the statue; at the beginning of Act 4 Desdemona will try absently to re-attach the head. Iconoclasm is the basic modality of this production, appropriately enough in a play about the shattering of reputation.
In fact Langridge shatters the stage itself. During the storm, a vast jagged crack, like a cartoon image of an earthquake, opens in the floor; and at the end of Act 3, as Jago wonders what would stop him from putting his foot on Otello’s skull, he stomps on a low wide glass platform, which breaks in two — the rear half lifts in the air, and its huge sharp zigzags will brood over the rest of the action. Verdi and Boito disagreed about the handling of the Act 3 finale — Verdi suggested to Boito that he write verses about a new invasion: “Suddenly in the distance are heard drums, trumpets, cannon fire, etc., etc…“The Turks! The Turks! Populace and soldiers invade the stage. All are surprised and frightened! Otello recovers himself and stands erect like a lion”; Boito replied, “That attack of the Turks seems to me like a fist breaking the window of a room where two people are about to die of asphyxiation. That private atmosphere of death so carefully created by Shakespeare suddenly vanishes …” The Langridge fracturing of the glass platform is the fist breaking the window: to some extent it gives the effect that Verdi initially wanted; but the composer himself came to agree with Boito, that a certain claustrophobia was a better idea.
See below for this recording in standard DVD format: