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

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.

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

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):