27 Jun 2010
Massenet's Thaïs at Teatro Regio Torino
What sort of production would be optimal for an opera that with more style than content?
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.
Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.
‘Can great music be inspired by the throw of the dice?’ asks Peter Phillips, director of The Tallis Scholars, in his liner notes to the ensemble’s new recording of Josquin’s Missa Di dadi (The Dice Mass). The fifteenth-century artist certainly had an abundant supply of devotional imagery. As one scholar has put it, during this age there was neither ‘an object nor an action, however trivial, that [was] not constantly correlated with Christ or salvation’.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
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.
What sort of production would be optimal for an opera that with more style than content?
A good place to evaluate one's answer to that question comes in the form of this DVD of Stefano Poda's staging of Thaïs by Jules Massenet (composer) and Louis Gallet (libretto). Viewers who find the opera slightly risible but who still enjoy the music are likely to be amused and fascinated by Poda's over-the-top aesthetic, part dance and performance art spectacle, part out-of-control fashion runway show. Anyone actually captivated by the opera's conjunction of overripe sexuality and pained religiosity may be much less pleased.
A fairly long opera for its story, Thaïs has a cast listing of 9 roles, but the story never strays far from the title character and her admirer, a monk who sets out to convert the courtesan from her sinful ways and put her on the path to righteousness. In the end, the monk Athanaël finds himself over come by her attractions, but it is too late for his own conversion to sensuality, as Thaïs can no longer respond, having forsaken her former life and then, after being born again, rather abruptly dying.
The Metropolitan Opera recently staged Thaïs with stars Renee Fleming and Thomas Hampson in the leading roles, and stars of that magnitude are needed. Without their charisma, a flimsy story and the fallows of the score between its 2 or 3 highlights make for a forgettable evening. Excellent singers both, such charisma doesn't get projected by Barbara Frittoli or Lado Ataneli, caught on this recording in live performance from 2008 at the Teatro Regio Torino. Frittoli has beauty enough for the role, edging just a bit into Rubenesque territory. Only in her big scene, the so-called Mirror aria, does the relative blandness of her vocal instrument come into too close focus. Ataneli, no actor, doesn't do much more than glower and look down, and in his dark floor-length tunic he looks a bit like Rasputin on a Middle East holiday. His handsome voice, however, makes credible the growing attraction the courtesan feels for him. In the only other truly notable role, as Thaïs's Babylonian sugar daddy Nicias, Alessandro Liberatore doesn't so much disappear into the role as just disappear.
What makes this show a fascinating experience is the total design effort of director Stefano Poda, who also choreographs and designs the sets, costumes, and lighting. He has no interest in pretending this is a naturalistic story of early AD Babylon. He plays with black, mostly in the costumes, and white in the sets. He does not attempt much differentiation between the libretto's settings, opting instead for a stylized dimension where barely clothed dancers sweep on and off, illustrating the action in the opera's extensive instrumental passages. It all borders on the silly, but so does the opera. Poda's flow of invention in creating eye-catching stage pictures makes the show not just bearable but actually fairly entertaining, especially seen in the incredibly crisp and detailed Blu-Ray picture.
Gianandrea Noseda elicits sensuous playing from the house orchestra. The production in the Metropolitan Opera's performances, broadcast last year in the HD Moviecast series, was also fairly stylized, but it didn't draw attention to itself the way Poda's does. If that sounds like criticism of this version, stay away. If it sounds appealing, check it out.