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

Giovanni Simon Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

Matthias Goerne: Bach Cantatas for Bass

In this new release for Harmonia Mundi, German baritone Matthias Goerne presents us with two gems of Bach’s cantata repertoire, with the texts of both BWV 56 and 82 exploring one’s sense of hope in death.  Goerne adeptly interprets the paradoxical combination of hope and despair that underpins these works, deploying a graceful lyricism alongside a richer, darker bass register.

Gramophone Award Winner — Matthias Goerne Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge

Winner of the 2017 Gramophone Awards, vocal category - Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach - Johannes Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge and other Brahms Lieder. Here is why ! An exceptional recording, probably a new benchmark.

Véronique Gens: Visions from Grand Opéra

Ravishing : Visions, Véronique Gens in a glorious new recording of French operatic gems, with Hervé Niquet conducting the Münchener Rundfunkorchester. This disc is a companion piece to Néère, where Gens sang familiar Duparc, Hahn, and Chausson mélodies.

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch should be a huge hit. Just as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appeals to audiences who don't listen to early music (or even to much classical music), Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

A Resplendent Régine Crespin in Tosca

There have to be special reasons to release a monophonic live recording of a much-recorded opera. Often it can give us the opportunity to hear a singer in a major role that he or she never recorded commercially—or did record on some later occasion, when the voice was no longer fresh. Often a live recording catches the dramatic flow better than certain studio recordings that may be more perfect technically.

Karine Deshayes’s Astonishing New Rossini Recording

Critic and scholar John Barker has several times complained, in the pages of American Record Guide, about Baroque vocal recitals that add instrumental works or movements as supposed relief or (as he nicely calls them) “spacers.”

Knappertsbusch’s Only Recording of Lohengrin Released for the First Time

Hans Knappertsbusch was one of the most renowned Wagner conductors who ever lived. His recordings of Parsifal, especially, are near-legendary among confirmed Wagnerians.

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered

Kathleen Ferrier Remembered, from SOMM Recordings, makes available on CD archive broadcasts of British and German song. All come from BBC broadcasts made between 1947 and 1952. Of the 26 tracks in this collection, 19 are "new", not having been commercially released. The remaining seven have been remastered by sound restoration engineer Ted Kendall. Something here even for those who already own the complete recordings.

Color and Drama in Two Choral Requiems from Post-Napoleonic France

The Requiem text has brought out the best in many composers. Requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré are among the most beloved works among singers and listeners alike, and there are equally wondrous settings by Berlioz and Duruflé, as well as composers from before 1750, notably Jean Gilles.

Matthias Goerne - late Schumann songs, revealed

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi. Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive. The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.

LALO and COQUARD: La Jacquerie

La Jacquerie—here recorded for the first time—proves to be a wonderful opera, bringing delight upon delight.

Urania Remasters Marriage of Figaro

Good news for lovers of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro: the famous Living Stereo recording, a co-production of RCA Victor and English Decca, is now available again, well remastered, on Urania.

Opera Rara: new recording of Bellini's Adelson e Salvini

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

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Hector Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini
21 May 2011

Benvenuto Cellini

Philipp Stölzl’s production of Benvenuto Cellini, from the 2007 Salzburg Festival, is weird almost beyond belief.

Hector Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini

Benvenuto Cellini: Burkhard Fritz; Teresa: Maija Kovalevska; Fieramosca: Laurent Naouri; Giacomo Balducci: Brindley Sherratt; Pope Clemens VII: Mikhail Petrenko; Ascanio: Kate Aldrich; Francesco: Xavier Mas; Bernardino: Roberto Tagliavini; Pompeo: Adam Plachetka; Innkeeper: Sung-Keun Park. Vienna State Opera Chorus. Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (chorus master: Andreas Schüller). Valery Gergiev, conductor. Philipp Stölzl, stage director and stage designer. Kathi Maurer, costume design. Duane Schuler, lighting design. Mara Kurotschka, choreographer. Filmed at the Großes Festspielhaus, Salzburg, 5, 10 and 15 August 2007.

Naxos NBD0006 [Blu-Ray]

$39.99  Click to buy

When the curtain rises we see a modern city at night: the heroine Teresa (who loves the great sculptor Cellini, and despises the poor sculptor Fieramosca, whom her father, the papal treasurer, wishes her to marry) has a perfume advertisement in front of her face; this ad turns out to be the back of Paris Match magazine, whose cover speculates that Cellini is a drug abuser. It seems that the opera is going to concern product placement, though this turns out not to be quite true. Then Teresa’s (mute) servants enter: the male servant is a robot that seems made of a refrigerator case into which two auto headlights are set for eyes, and a radiator grill set for a mouth; the female servant is a pink metal contraption with a conical head. As Teresa sings her lovesick aria, the female servant paints Teresa’s nails and shaves her armpits while the male servant turns out to be a huge vacuum cleaner. After her father glowers at her with a shotgun, Cellini, a charismatic tattooed fellow in jeans and a leather jacket, steps off a helicopter onto the roof. Only a few minutes have yet gone by.

A review printed on the back of the DVD notes, correctly, the resemblances to Batman and to Metropolis. The Metropolis suggestion is quite overt, since Ascanio, Cellini’s henchman and assistant, is a gold gynoid (or android—sex is ambiguous here) straight out of Fritz Lang’s movie, although with a few up-to-date touches—the back of his head is full of transistors and wires. But I think that the range of reference is far cheesier than the reviewer suggests. The pink conehead maid is straight out of Judy Jetson’s household; the male servant alludes to low-budget science fiction, on the order of the TV show Lost in Space. In the carnival scene, there are everywhere allusions to cartoons: we see costumes that suggest Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck and Donald’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. A big dynamite detonator is so clearly derived from Roadrunner cartoons that it might as well have The Acme Company printed on it. Zippy the Pinhead seems to inspire certain details, but I’m not sure that Stölzl is likely to know this semi-underground cartoon.

But despite all the sci-fi paraphernalia, even including ray-guns, there is a distinct retro look. Riveted girders are on display; the popemobile is a 1930s roadster with a big glowing cross as the hood ornament. Smokestacks continually emit steam, and indeed this may be the first steampunk opera production.

It is easy to ridicule this—Stölzl certainly intends this ridiculous production to be ridiculed. But almost in spite of myself I enjoyed it, and I think I know why. This is an opera about creativity: the drama concerns Cellini’s difficulties in forging his great statue of Perseus; Berlioz tried hard to limn the artistic personality—reckless, sexy, dangerous to the point of committing murder—that could create such a masterpiece. I suspect that Stölzl tried to imitate this sort of reckless, sexy, dangerous creativity, though the results are usually diffuse. Most focused is his treatment of the robot Ascanio, who becomes a sort of Galatea to Pygmalion-Cellini. Stölzl has Cellini give him (her) a passionate kiss, in defiance of the rules of trousers roles, but here not just a transvestism of the sexes, but a transvestism between the quick and the dead. At one point Ascanio’s severed head sings an aria, as his headless body dances around, as if he were a kind of avatar of Cellini, in danger of being hanged; and, during the casting of the Perseus, Ascanio tosses part of his body into the furnace, to contribute metal to the dangerously low supply. The sexual element is strong: Cellini fondles Teresa’s breasts; some servants spray Fieramosca’s groin with a fire extinguisher; in the satirical carnival show, the puppet representing the nitwit ninny Fieramosca has a huge balloon phallus, finally popped by one of the revelers. Berlioz himself was a kind of steampunk composer, whose harmonic daring and avant-garde urgency of expression was combined with certain (sometimes ironically) retrograde elements, such as the division of the action into set numbers, in some sense a throwback to a pre-Gluckian way of constructing an opera.

The conductor, Valery Gergiev, is about perfect, all impetuousness and finesse and control. The singing is a little less good: best is Maija Kovaleska, the Teresa, a flashy and, despite her mugging, a compelling actress, with a clear vibrant voice that can be caressing but tends to a slight blowsiness; Burkhard Fritz, the Cellini, has a potent stage presence, but an inelegant and uningratiating voice. Even the Fieramosca, Laurent Naouri, who knows everything about French classical style, is guilty of some lunging, as if the fake meretriciousness (if meretriciousness can be faked) had entered his soul. But I suspect that everyone involved had a great deal of fun.

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):