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

Alexander Zemlinsky: Der Zwerg; Viktor Ullmann: Der zerbrochene Krug
21 Feb 2011

Der zerbrochene Krug / Der Zwerg

Der zerbrochene Krug is a very short opera by Viktor Ullmann, based on a comedy by Kleist, concerning the fall of man.

Alexander Zemlinsky: Der Zwerg; Viktor Ullmann: Der zerbrochene Krug

DerZwerg — The Dwarf: Rodrick Dixon; Donna Clara: Mary Dunleavy; Ghita: Susan B. Anthony; Don Estoban: James Johnson; First Maid: Melody Moore; Second Maid: Lauren McNeese; Third Maid: Elizabeth Bishop; First Playmate: Karen Vuong; Second Playmate: Rena Harms.

Der zerbrochene Krug — Adam: James Johnson; Licht: Bonaventura Bottone; Walter: Steven Humes; Frau Marthe Rull: Elizabeth Bishop; Eve: Melody Moore; Veit Tümpel: Jason Stearns; Ruprecht: Richard Cox; Frau Brigitte: Natasha Flores; First Maid: Rena Harms; Second Maid: Lauren McNeese; A Servant: Ryan McKinny.

Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and Chorus. James Conlon, conductor. Darko Tresnjak, stage director. Ralph Funicello, set designer. Linda Cho, costume designer. David Weiner, lighting designer. Peggy Hickey, choreographer. Recorded live at the Los Angeles Opera, 2008.

ArtHaus Musik 101528 [Blu-Ray]

$39.99  Click to buy

It is set in the Netherlands: a woman sues the fiancé of her daughter Eve for having broken a precious jug, in a court presided over by Judge Adam; as it happens Judge Adam himself broke the jug while sneaking into Eve’s room in an attempt to seduce her, and was severely injured trying to escape. As the (excellent) conductor, James Conlon, says in the liner notes, the jug represents Eve’s virginity. One might think of Pope’s famous couplet: “Whether the nymph shall break Diana’s law, / Or some frail China jar receive a flaw…” But the jug has far greater symbolic import, too: Eve’s mother points out that famous figures from Dutch history were depicted on the jug, and to Kleist the jug represents history itself, a tale shattered by human vice. As Kafka says, the Last Judgment in a court in perpetual session.

The staging of the opera (directed by Darko Tresnjak, with sets by Ralph Funicello) is good. The sky and the background windmills are colored like sin, ranging from lurid red to livid blue; during the overture, in an especially nice touch, dancers in silhouette, framed by a huge jug-arch, pantomime the events preliminary to the action. It is as if the drama were itself taking place on a great delft vase. The singing and the acting are enjoyably competent, but not more.

Ullmann’s opera is not one of his better works. In places there is rhythmic pungency, sometimes in a finely Prokofiev-like manner, but much of the music is generally peppy or generally mock-serious—there is none of blackness found in his other operas, Der Sturz des Antichrist and Der Kaiser von Atlantis. It would have better if the music had cut deeper, as Kleist’s play does, despite its cheerfulness. On the other hand, Kleist once wrote that we need to eat the apple of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil a second time, to recover our lost innocence, to become pure, as a puppet or a god is pure; and maybe Ullmann has tried to restore something of the innocence that was lost in the fall of man.

Alexander von Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg is on an altogether different plane of achievement. The plot, derived from an Oscar Wilde fairy tale, is simple: on the Infantin’s eighteenth birthday her playmates frolic about her, and she receives many gorgeous gifts; the chamberlain tells us that the most beautiful of all is also the most abominable, a dwarf whose hideousness has been concealed from him all his life, for he has never been allowed to see a mirror; for sport the Infantin pretends to fall in love with him, but comes to think it would be still better sport to show him what he looks like; he peers into a mirror, and shrieks; the Infantin tells him that she never loved him—who could love a grotesque little hunchback?—and he dies of a broken heart; the Infanta notes that a favorite toy is broken, and returns to the land of tra-la-la.

The plot sounds like a version or perversion of the first scene of Das Rheingold: here, when the ugly dwarf falls in love with the beautiful maiden, we feel pity for the dwarf and contempt for the maiden. And there is even a moment of musical resemblance, when the orchestra plays limping figures as the chamberlain describes the dwarf, similar to those we hear in the earlier opera at Alberich’s entrance. But what Zemlinsky’s music tells us is that his opera is a version or perversion of the Olympia act in Les contes d’Hoffmann, for the Infantin is like a mechanical doll, and the dwarf is a poet who considers her a creature straight from a romantic poem.

This performance (also designed by Tresnjak and Funicello) is somewhat unsatisfactory. The set is handsome, with its black marble walls and golden stairs. But this very dark, spare set isn’t right for an opera where, especially at the beginning, all should be bejeweled, glittery, full of sunlight. It would have been better to look to Velázquez for inspiration, not Zurbarán. Mary Dunleavy, the Infantin, has a potent voice, a little shrill at times; she makes her character less a spoiled horror in a pretty dress than a playfully self-indulgent girl, caught up in a game whose consequences she doesn’t understand. I wouldn’t have guess that a production could go a ways toward exculpating the Infantin, but I was intrigued by this idea. What seemed wrong to me was Dunleavy’s naturalness, her smiling ease as she played her game: she might have been Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier talking demurely with Octavian.

I understand the Infantin (as I believe Wilde understood her) as pure artifice—better to have her move jerkily like a robot than to make her a character with an interesting personality. As the dwarf, Rodrick Dixon was superb, a figure of energy and a sort of supple pathos, ready to accommodate himself to the shifting viciousnesses around him.

But still, this is an opera that I find intensely moving. I have loved it for many years, and my life would have been poorer without it.

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):