Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Gergiev’s Das Rheingold

Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

Hänsel und Gretel

This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.

Magdalena Kožená: Love and Longing

Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená.

Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon

Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Amore e Tormento

Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’ 

Rivals—Arias for Farinelli & Co.

In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi. 

Verdi at the Old MET

With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s major opera houses today.

Italo Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre re

In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions. 

Così fan tutte from DG

Few operas inspire the kind of competing affection and controversy that have surrounded Mozart’s Così fan tutte almost since its first performance in Vienna in 1790. 

Heart’s Delight: The Songs of Richard Tauber

During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.

Adriana Lecouvreur from Decca

Known principally for its two concert show-pieces for the leading lady, the success of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur relies upon finding a soprano willing to take on, and able to pull off, the eponymous role.

Lawrence Brownlee’s Spiritual Sketches

It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.

Great Wagner Conductors from DG

As a companion to their excellent Great Wagner Singers boxed set compiled and released in celebration of the Wagner Bicentennial, Deutsche Grammophon have also released Great Wagner Conductors, a selection of orchestral music conducted by five of the most iconic Wagnerian conductors of the Twentieth Century, extracted from Deutsche Grammophon’s extensive archives.

Great Wagner Singers from DG

There could be no greater gift to the Wagnerian celebrating the Master’s Bicentennial than this compilation from Deutsche Grammophon, aptly entitled Great Wagner Singers.

Adding Movie Magic to The Magic Flute

What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?

L’Incoronazione di Poppea from Virgin Classics

Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity. 

Saverio Mercadante: I due Figaro

Though 2013 is the bicentennial of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the releases of Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Bellini’s Norma on DECCA, a new studio recording of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro from Opera Rara, and this première recording of Saverio Mercadante’s forgotten I due Figaro, suggest that this is the start of a summer of bel canto.

Christian Thielemann’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

Recording Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is for a record label equivalent to a climber reaching the summit of Mount Everest: it is the zenith from which a label surveys its position among its rivals and appreciates an achievement that can define its reputation for a generation. 

Cecilia Bartoli as Norma

Few people who love opera in general and bel canto in particular have never heard the comment made by Lilli Lehmann, veteran of the inaugural Ring at Bayreuth in 1876, that singing all three of Wagner’s Brünnhildes—in Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung, respectively, all of which she sang to great acclaim—pales in comparison with singing the title rôle in Bellini’s Norma

Ariane et Barbe-Bleue on Blu-Ray

Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, first heard in 1907, once seemed important. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Met premiere in 1911 with Farrar and later arranged some of its music for a 1947 recording with his NBC Symphony.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

FRA Musica FRA 004
27 Oct 2011

Carmen returns to the Opéra Comique

“Historically Informed Performance” sure has a nice ring — not only does the acronym capture the trendiness of the movement (“HIP”), but one has to admire the subtle put-down the term encapsulates.

Georges Bizet: Carmen

Carmen: Anna Caterina Antonacci; Don José: Andrew Richards; Escamillo: Nicolas Cavallier. Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. The Monteverdi Choir. Director: Adrian Noble. Conductor: Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Opéra Comique, June 2009.

FRA Musica FRA 004 [2DVDs]

$37.49  Click to buy

After all, any conductor who doesn’t follow the practice would seem to be tagged as “historically ignorant.”

At its start some decades ago, the “HIP” movement focused on baroque and early classical era music. It has since branched out, and that branch is impressively extended with the recent DVD of Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducting his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique at the Opéra Comique in an historically informed performance of Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Besides employing instruments of the era, this production aims for authenticity from the ground up — or “the stage” up. For Carmen debuted at the Opéra Comique, infamously receiving a less than ideal reception that many conjecture added to the stress which culminated in the composer’s early death from heart disease. Stage director Adrian Noble strives to freshen the action while keeping to a libretto-bound conception of the story and characters. This is still, therefore, a Carmen who sits with legs splayed, and who sashays with one hand on a hip. That said, Noble does have his Don José plant a kiss on Micaela in act one that goes beyond the usual pallid interaction.

Set and costume designer Mark Thompson, however, seems of two minds. The costumes are very traditional, though nicely done — almost everything is in a spectrum of light beige through dark brown, and the clothes look truly worn. In so many a Carmen, everyone looks as if the local dry cleaner is working overtime. Thompson’s uniset, however, surely looks nothing like whatever the Opéra Comique used in 1875. Act three, for example, gives only the barest indication of a mountain pass. Instead, we have a sort of elevated walkway at the rear which slopes to stage level, and a circular platform just off mid-stage. Apparently the cigarette factory is subterranean, as the girls take their break by clambering out of the platform. For act 4, Noble and Thompson clear the stage for the intense action of the last scene.

There are moments in the recorded performance where one can almost imagine, however, that one is watching — if not the authentic first performance — something rawer and more authentic than many another recorded Carmen. Sir John and the artistic team use an edited version of the score (by one Richard Lanhman-Smith) that has spoken dialogue, as Bizet originally intended. And under Noble’s direction, a committed cast delivers strong performances — honest and stripped-down to essentials. Anna Caterina Antonacci’s Carmen has already been recorded in an acclaimed Covent Garden performance opposite Jonas Kaufmann. Her comfort in the role allows her to perform even the most stereotypical gestures and movements with relaxed conviction. Oddly, the only times that her singing reflects any discomfort with the role is at the higher range — which one might think unusual for a singer with a career as a soprano. Perhaps in adjusting her voice for the reliance on the middle range, Antonacci loses a bit of security at the top. It’s a very minor compromise in an otherwise strong performance.

Her Don José does a fine job right up until his big second act aria and continues to be fine thereafter. But Andrew Richards is not able to deliver the “Flower Song” with the security and confidence the moment requires. It’s all the more unfortunate as his Don José is so believable — a man of modest attraction, overwhelmed by the chance to share the passion of Carmen, and then devastated when it is withdrawn. The supporting cast makes more routine impressions, with Anne-Catherine Gillet giving us a Micaela even mousier than usual, and Nicolas Cavallier too smug for his own good as Escamillo.

As for Gardiner and his orchestra, they often play fast, as one might expect, and there are patches of roughness than either attest to the authenticity of the performance or suggest a deaf ear to musical sophistication — depending on one’s attitude towards HIP. Gardiner’s most regrettable choice is the Nehru jacket. Un-HIP.

The packaging is remarkably handsome but not without compromises. Your reviewer prefers removable booklets to one bound to the spine. The two discs are visually nearly identical, with text almost impossible to read. Figuring out how to dislodge the discs from the casing also took more of your reviewer’s ingenuity than he would have liked. The bonus feature is a rather routine 20 minute set of interviews, but as the booklet has nothing but credits and synopsis, anyone wanting a little more insight into the performance will have to view it.

Not a “hip” Carmen, then, but this HIP Carmen does have historical appeal and a strong performance of the title role.

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):