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

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Vaughan Williams: The Song of Love

From Albion, The Song of Love featuring songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Kitty Whately, Roderick Williams and pianist William Vann. Albion is unique, treasured by Vaughan Williams devotees for rarely heard repertoire from the composer’s vast output, so don’t expect mass market commercial product. Albion recordings often highlight new perspectives.

A new recording of Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa

Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa is in some ways a work with a troubled and turbulent history. It is defined by the time in which it was written – 1968 – a period of student protest throughout central Europe. Its first performance was abandoned because the Hamburg chorus refused to perform under the Red Flag which had been placed on stage; and Henze himself decided he wouldn’t conduct it at all after police stormed the concert hall to remove protesters, among them the librettist Ernst Schnabel.

Berthold Goldschmidt: Beatrice Cenci, Bregenzer Festspiele

Berthold Goldschmidt’s Beatrice Cenci at last on DVD, from the Bregenzer Festspiele in 2018, with Johannes Debus conducting the Wiener Symphoniker, directed by Johannes Erath, and sung in German translation.

Sandrine Piau: Si j’ai aimé

Sandrine Piau and Le Concert de la Loge (Julien Chauvin), Si j’ai aimé, an eclectic collection of mélodies demonstrating the riches of French orchestral song. Berlioz, Duparc and Massenet are included, but also Saint-Saëns, Charles Bordes, Gabriel Pierné, Théodore Dubois, Louis Vierne and Benjamin Godard.

The VOCES8 Foundation is launched at St Anne & St Agnes

Where might you hear medieval monophony by the late 12th-century French composer Pérotin, Renaissance polyphony by William Byrd, a vocal arrangement of the stirring theme from Sibelius’s tone poem Finlandia, alongside a newly commissioned work, ‘Vertue’ (2019) by Jonathan Dove, followed by an arrangement of the Irish folksong ‘Danny Boy’ and a snappy rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘One Note Samba’ arr. for eight voices by Naomi Crellin, all within 90 minutes?

Gerald Finzi Choral Works

From Hyperion, Gerald Finzi choral works with the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, conducted by Stephen Layton. An impressive Magnificat (1952) sets the tone.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Lise Davidsen sings Wagner and Strauss

Superlatives to describe Lise Davidsen’s voice have been piling up since she won Placido Domingo’s 2015 Operalia competition, blowing everyone away. She has been called “a voice in a million” and “the new Kirsten Flagstad.”

Nicky Spence and Julius Drake record The Diary of One Who Disappeared

From Hyperion comes a particularly fine account of Leoš Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared. Handsome-voiced Nicky Spence is the young peasant who loses his head over an alluring gypsy and is never seen again.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Matthias Goerne: Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 & Kernerlieder

New from Harmonia Mundi, Matthias Goerne and Lief Ove Andsnes: Robert Schumann – Liederkreis, op 24 and Kernerlieder. Goerne and Andsnes have a partnership based on many years of working together, which makes this new release, originally recorded in late 2018, well worth hearing.

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Stéphanie D’Oustrac: Sirènes

After D’Oustrac’s striking success as Cassandre in Berlioz Les Troyens, this will reach audiences less familiar with her core repertoire in the baroque and grand opéra. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été and La mort d’Ophélie, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and the Lieder of Franz Liszt are very well known, but the finesse of D’Oustrac’s timbre lends a lucid gloss which makes them feel fresh and pure.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Aleksis Kivi
13 Aug 2011

Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Aleksis Kivi

Great characters are at the center of all operatic masterpieces, yet opera almost never treads into “operatic biography” territory.

Einojuhani Rautavvara: Aleksis Kivi

Aleksis Kivi: Jorma Hynninen; August Ahlqvist: Janne Reinikainen; Charlotta: Riikka Rantanen; Hilda: Paulina Linnosaari. Finnish National Opera Orchestra. Conductor: Mikko Franck.

Ondine ODV4009 [DVD]

$29.99  Click to buy

Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Aleksis Kivi, which premiered in 1997, ventures there, as it puts on stage the story of Finland’s 19th century literary hero. Kivi used the vernacular to tell stories of greater realism than the prevailing Romantic tradition, and while he found enough success to keep his works alive, he also encountered a great deal of derision and suppression from the literary establishment. He also had to struggle against his own demons, especially alcoholism fueled by mental illness, to which he succumbed at the early age of 38.

Although the composer’s booklet note (translated by Andrew Bentley) refers to Kivi’s “eventful life,” the 90-minute opera doesn’t concern itself with narrative in any conventional sense. There is a double for Kivi at a young age, and a key female figure, Charlotta, who may have been a romantic interest (although this is far from clear). The core of any dramatic impetus comes from the intractable hatred of Kivi’s nemesis, critic August Ahlqvist. In a daring move that pays big dividends, Rautavaara makes this a speaking role, with acerbic music underscoring the character’s venomous railings. However, no progression follows the establishment of Ahlqvist’s disdain in the opening scenes — he hates and ridicules Kivi until opera’s end, with only a brief comic respite when Ahlqvist brings out the legendary writer Runeberg, initially confined to a wheelchair. Soon this supposedly respectable literary master is scampering around the stage in a fit of dementia, with Ahlqvist in chase. The humorous respite precedes the touching climax, where the schizophrenic Kivi, in the final moments of his life, revisits Charlotta and even his younger self, finding solace in the conviction that what he created will live on.

This Ondine DVD of a 2010 staging is directed by Pekka Milonoff, although the true guiding hand of this film, caught by cameras without an audience, belongs to TV director Hannu Kamppila. A captivating cast holds the attention that otherwise might lose interest in set designer Eeva Ijäs’s sparse set. Dominating with both the conviction of his acting and the handsome colors of his voice is baritone Jorma Hynninen as Kivi. He looks older than the 38 Kivi was at death, but he captures the haunted appearance of a man caught between the ecstasy of his creative urge and the pain of the mental illness and abuse of alcohol that consumed him. There is little interaction between Kivi and Ahlqvist, as there is truly no ground for them to share. Janne Reinikainen gives a bold performance as the deluded Ahlqvist, who believes he is protecting Finland reputation. Both sinister and ridiculous, he is a fine villain.

A twenty-minute bonus feature on the making of the film features the composer’s thoughts, delivered in a somewhat scary hoarse whisper, as well as interviews with Hynninen and conductor Mikko Franck. Franck’s appearance — cherubic would be polite — and his relaxed interplay with his excellent musicians shows that the tradition of the frightening, dictatorial conductor is as dead as the literature of Runeberg.

Rautavaara’s score will please those who know and respect his music — a mixture of modernistic textures with tonal underpinnings that, though never conventionally melodic, has affecting strength. At 90 minutes, Aleksis Kivi makes a good introduction to Rautavaara’s operatic efforts, but a release from a couple of years ago of Rasputin, with the titanic Matti Salminen in the title role, would be your reviewer’s choice for the best place to start.

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):