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

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

The Devil, Greed, War, and Simple Goodness: Ostrčil’s Jack’s Kingdom

Here is a little-known opera that, like an opera by the Swedish composer Laci Boldemann that I have reviewed here, and like Ravel’s amazing L’enfant et les sortilèges, utterly bypasses the usual categories of comic and grand/tragic by cultivating instead the rich realm of fantasy and folk tale.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Karol Szymanowski: Król Roger (King Roger)
09 Jan 2011

King Roger at Bregenz Festival 2009

Long-dormant operas sometimes rise to meet a new dawn only to then slink away like the creatures of the night they were doomed to be — seductive but dangerous to approach.

Karol Szymanowski: Król Roger (King Roger)

King Roger: Scott Hendricks; Roxana: Olga Pasichnyk; Shepherd: Will Hartmann; Edrisi: John Graham-Hall. Wiener Symphoniker. Conductor: Mark Elder. Staged by David Pountney

Unitel Classics 702808 [DVD]

$29.99  Click to buy

Let’s call them “vampire” operas, and one such is the sole operatic creation of Karol Szymanowski, composer and co-librettist (with Jaroslaw Iwasszkiewicz) of King Roger. This DVD set’s excellent booklet essay (written by Christoph Schlüren and translated by J. Bradford Robinson) describes this as an obscure work admired mostly by “connoisseurs and composers.” That might do well to characterize all of Szymanowski’s compositions, with his violin concertos being the pieces most likely to earn an occasional recording and, less often, make a concert hall appearance. The seductiveness of King Roger lies in its texturally rich score, a silky fabric of lushness and languidity, with ecstatic outbursts. The danger is in believing, with its libretto that Schlüren tactfully describes as lacking “dramatic fibre,” that King Roger can hold the stage in any conventional sense.

For the 2009 Bregenz Festival (in its “house” venue, not at the lakeside theater used for the more spectacular stagings), David Pountney, never one for the conventional approach anyway, easily evaded this danger. Pountney’s staging affirms the oratorio nature of the libretto, with what action there is occurring on an oversized flight of white stair-steps that covers the stage practically from side to side and back to front. Szymanowski’s score employs a large chorus, and in act one they troop up and down the stairs in black gowns, surrounding and observing the action of the few key performers. With amazing lighting designs (by Fabrice Kebour), this single set serves as the varying locations of the three acts, but as the narrative never seems concerned with conventional scene setting anyway, this is no detriment.

The booklet omits any synopsis, probably because none is really needed. In a remote time, a King is warned that a stranger has appeared whose presence is both beguiling and alarming the populace. When this man, referred to as the Shepherd, is denounced by the Archbishop as a heretic and threatened with death, the King’s wife Roxana, besotted, asks that the Shepherd be given a chance to demonstrate his good intentions. Soon the Shepherd has enchanted the populace, and by act three, a Dionysian orgy is underway — where the opera suddenly ends, with King Roger apparently now under the sway of the Shepherd and the old order in tatters.

Pountney therefore begins the opera rather solemnly and simply, but things get a bit wild in act two, where the Shepard wears — and not well — the same bold red gown as Roxana. And both gowns have the same ghastly red fabric flower stitched to the front, enough to make Michael Kors’ mouth pucker in disgust (not that Kors’s mouth ever doesn’t do that). In act three, after a wild night, the King sports the dress, or what’s left of it, and quite a lot of smeared blood as well. By the time King Roger raises his blood-smeared arms to the rising sun, the orgy participants have left, leaving the once pristine white stairs sprinkled with crimson.

Thomas Hampson has recorded the title role, and his gorgeous voice and handsome but stiff presence would work well on stage, one would imagine. Here, Scott Hendricks is game, but his instrument is rather ordinary, and he looks no better in his torn gown of red than Will Hartmann does as the Shepard (Hartmann at least gets to wear it intact, though in act three he is down to a rather frightful loincloth). To ask any tenor to create a figure of surpassing physical beauty and charisma is to ask rather too much, and as much appreciated as Mr. Hartmann’s efforts should be, he doesn’t really come up to the role’s requirements. In a role of almost no character definition, Olga Pasichnyk as Roxana does get some beautiful music, especially in an exquisite second act number. Why she should be as bald, if not balder, than her King is not clear to your reviewer.

Conductor Mark Elder clearly relishes the score, as most any conductor would, and the Wiener Symphoniker plays with delicacy and passion as needed. And this is not the amplified monstrosity of an acoustic as heard in the festival’s lakeside venue. Sound and picture are both impeccable.

Those who know — or know of- the opera should surely avail themselves of a chance to see what arguable amounts to a semi-staging, although a stylish and evocative one at its best. And even if one is not among those “connoisseurs and composers” who admire the work and the composer, this is a quality production that will reward the serious opera fan.

Chris Mullins

 

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):