Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

Ethel Smyth: Songs and Ballads - a new recording from SOMM

In 1877, Ethel Smyth, aged just nineteen, travelled to Leipzig to begin her studies at the German town’s Music Conservatory, having finally worn down the resistance of her father, General J.H. Smyth.

Wagner: Excerpts from Der Ring des Niebelungen, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, RCA-Sony

This new recording of excerpts from Wagner’s Der Ring des Niebelungen is quite exceptional - and very unusual for this kind of disc. The words might be missing, but the fact they are proves to have rather the opposite effect. It is one of the most operatic of orchestral Wagner discs I have come across.

Wagner: Die Walküre, Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Simon Rattle, BR Klassik

Simon Rattle has never particularly struck me as a complex conductor. He is not, for example, like Furtwängler, Maderna, Boulez or Sinopoli - all of whom brought a breadth of learning and a knowledge of composition to bear on what they conducted.

Dvořák Requiem, Jakub Hrůša in memoriam Jiří Bělohlávek

Antonín Dvořák Requiem op.89 (1890) with Jakub Hrůša conducting the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The Requiem was one of the last concerts Jiří Bělohlávek conducted before his death and he had been planning to record it as part of his outstanding series for Decca.

Schumann Symphonies, influenced by song

John Eliot Gardiner's Schumann series with the London Symphony Orchestra, demonstrate the how Schumann’s Lieder and piano music influenced his approach to symphonic form and his interests in music drama.

Unusual and beautiful: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė with the Kremerata Baltica, in this new release from Deutsche Grammophon.

Diana Damrau sings Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder on Erato

“How weary we are of wandering/Is this perhaps death?” These closing words of ‘Im Abendrot’, the last of Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder, and the composer’s own valedictory work, now seem unusually poignant since they stand as an epitaph to Mariss Jansons’s final Strauss recording.

Vaughan Williams Symphonies 3 & 4 from Hyperion

Latest in the highly acclaimed Hyperion series of Ralph Vaughan Williams symphonies, Symphonies no 3 and 4, with Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, recorded in late 2018 after a series of live performances.

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with the Thomanerchor and Gewandhausorchester Leipzig

This Accentus release of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, recorded live on 15/16th December 2018 at St. Thomas’s Church Leipzig, takes the listener ‘back to Bach’, so to speak.

Retrospect Opera's new recording of Ethel Smyth's Fête Galante

Writing in April 1923 in The Bookman, of which he was editor, about Ethel Smyth’s The Boatswain’s Mate (1913-14) - the most frequently performed of the composer’s own operas during her lifetime - Rodney Bennett reflected on the principal reasons for the general neglect of Smyth’s music in her native land.

A compelling new recording of Bruckner's early Requiem

The death of his friend and mentor Franz Seiler, notary at the St Florian monastery to which he had returned as a teaching assistant in 1845, was the immediate circumstance which led the 24-year-old Anton Bruckner to compose his first large-scale sacred work: the Requiem in D minor for soloists, choir, organ continuo and orchestra, which he completed on 14th March 1849.

Emmerich Kálmán: Ein Herbstmanöver

Brilliant Emmerich Kálmán’s Ein Herbstmanöver from the Stadttheater, Giessen in 2018, conducted by Michael Hofstetter now on Oehms Classics, in a performing version by Balázs Kovalik.

Liszt Petrarca Sonnets complete – Andrè Schuen, Daniel Heide

An ambitious new series focusing on the songs of Franz Liszt, starting with all three versions of the Tre Sonetti del Petrarca, (Petrarca Sonnets), S.270a, S.270b and S.161 with Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide for Avi-music.de.

Une soirée chez Berlioz – lyrical rarities, on Berlioz’s own guitar

Une soirée chez Berlioz – an evening with Berlioz, songs for voice, piano and guitar, with Stéphanie D’Oustrac, Thibaut Roussel (guitar), and Tanguy de Williencourt (piano).

A Baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi

A baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi, this year’s offering in their acclaimed Christmas series. Great value for money - four CDs of music so good that it shouldn’t be saved just for Christmas. The prize here, though is the Pastorale de Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier with Ensemble Correspondances, with Sébastien Daucé, highly acclaimed on its first release just a few years ago.

Christmas at St George’s Windsor

Christmas at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, with the Choir of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, James Vivian, organist and conductor. New from Hyperion, this continues their series of previous recordings with this Choir. The College of St George, founded in 1348, is unusual in that it is a Royal Peculiar, a parish under the direct jurisdiction of the monarch, rather than the diocese.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde
18 Aug 2010

Tristan und Isolde, Bayreuth 2009

As the prelude plays, we see circles of fluorescent light moving slowly in uncertain black space. Are we seeing flights of flying saucers, as in Close Encounters of the Third Kind?

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

Tristan: Robert Dean Smith; Isolde: Iréne Theorin; Marke: Robert Holl; Kurwenal: Jukka Rasilainen; Melot: Ralf Lukas; Brangäne: Michelle Breedt; A young Sailor: Clemens Bieber; A Shepherd: Arnold Bezuyen; A Steersman: Martin Snell. Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra. Peter Schneider, conductor. Christoph Marthaler, stage director. Recorded live at the Bayreuth Festival, Germany, in August 2009.

Opus Arte OABD7067D [Blu-Ray]

$45.49  Click to buy

Are we seeing spots swimming in the lovers’ eyeballs, as ecstasy makes the blood drain from their heads? Are we seeing an abstract kinetic visualization of the music, as in the Bach toccata episode in Disney’s Fantasia? All these things, from the deliriously silly to the deliriously fatal, are relevant to Christoph Marthaler’s bizarre, bizarrely moving Tristan.

The production is more or less modern-day, set in a 1940s or 1950s seedy-plush ocean liner: in each act we move a floor lower, until we’re in the ship’s innards at the end. There are two principal virtues to this updating: first, the actors know how to register emotional shifts delicately and instantly, without thinking to themselves, How does a bloodthirsty Irish princess from the Middle Ages express (say) ironically subdued courtesy?; second, uncanny events register as especially uncanny when transposed into an unmagical world. The fluorescent circles, for example, turn out to be ceiling decorations on the ocean liner; but in the last act, as Tristan’s fever grows, disconnected light-circles, casually slung onto hooks, start, eerily, to glow.

Nietzsche considered that Wagner’s heroines were all modern neurotics, Madame Bovarys; Marthaler goes Nietzsche one better by making the cast into grown-up children improvising various sexy absurdities. When Tristan and Kurwenal sing their nyah-nyah ditty about how Morold’s head is a payment of a toll, they pantomime a patty-cake patty-cake baker’s man game; during the orchestral interlude, as Tristan and Isolde drink the potion and intend to die, Isolde casually checks her own pulse—she is, after all, a physician, and knows how to Play Doctor; during the love duet, when Brangäne sings her aubade, Isolde removes her glove by biting the third finger and pulling it off, a brutal vulgar gesture that undercuts the sober magnificence of the music.

Still, there are ways in which the production is unusually faithful to Wagner’s aesthetic and philosophy. Because the acting is subtly naturalistic—especially the acting of the Isolde, Iréne Theorin—the strange quotation-games in the first act register with a clarity I’ve never seen before. Brangäne quotes Isolde’s “Befehlen liess dem Eigenholde”; Isolde quotes Brangäne’s “für böse Gifte Gegengift”—the characters keep switching lines, for emphasis, or new shading, or mockery. Wagner’s philosopher hero Schopenhauer thought that individuality is a delusion, and that one will gropes through every living thing in the universe—and the easy trading of words and tunes suggests how effortlessly each of us can turn into someone else. These ideas are more familiar in the metaphysically intense undoings of identity in the love duet, but they haunt the whole opera: in the Marthaler production, Isolde begins to sing the “Liebestod” from Tristan’s sickbed, and pulls his sheet over her head as her private shroud or final-act curtain, as if she were turning into his corpse before our eyes.

Theorin’s singing is a bit unsteady, but deep, penetrative, thrilling; Robert Dean Smith is not in her league as an actor, but has a perfectly controlled, slightly sapless voice, always at the exact center of each note—I was slightly reminded of Gunnar Graarud, the light but impressive Tristan in the 1930 Elmendorff recording. For pure excellence of singing, best of all is Michelle Breedt, the phlegmatic but powerful Brangäne. And I mustn’t neglect to mention Jukka Rasilainen’s Kurwenal: almost tenorial, at once puppyish and an endearing coot, the jester at the court of Thanat-Eros.

Daniel Albright

 

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):