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Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the
Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement
violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his
ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.
Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara -
Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.
It is not often that a major work by a forgotten composer gets rediscovered
and makes an enormously favorable impression on today’s listeners. That has
happened, unexpectedly, with Herculanum, a four-act grand opera by
Félicien David, which in 2014 was recorded for the first time.
This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.
Félicien David’s intriguing Le désert, for vocal and orchestral forces plus narrator, was widely performed in its own day, then disappeared from the performing repertory for nearly a century.
This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the
most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100
songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable
artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan
Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles”
This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa
Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The
Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s
Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical
Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their
40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two
settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.
Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according
to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.
Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au
bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc
Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.
Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.
As the editor of Opera magazine, John Allison, notes in his editorial in the June issue, Donizetti fans are currently spoilt for choice, enjoying a ‘Donizetti revival’ with productions of several of the composer’s lesser known works cropping up in houses around the world.
Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.
Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
16 Feb 2012
Pountney directs Verdi’s Forza for Vienna
One of the guiding principles of the revisionist (if not intervisionist) school of opera directing commonly called “regie-theater” is that certain outdated dramatic conventions in the librettos of many great operas can actually interfere with a contemporary audience’s ability to perceive the true artistic worth of the work of art.
Instead of tears, titters can be produced if in the last act of Rigoletto, the soprano looks ridiculous dressed as a boy and the stage action makes it impossible to believe that she survived the stabbing by Sparafucile. The truth of Verdi’s music and fine singing can overcome that reaction, but a talented director can also help, by re-conceptualizing the scene. On an abstract set, in some other historical context or in contemporary dress, the action no longer feels cramped by expectations of theatrical naturalism. At least, that’s the idea
Verdi and Piave’s La Forza del Destino can make Rigoletto’s story seem like something from Samuel Beckett. After an opening built around an errant gunshot that kills the enraged father of Leonora, who is about to elope with her lover Don Alvaro, the rest of the opera belabors coincidence amid tangentially related episodes (what does Preziosilla have to do with anything?) as Leonora’s brother seeks revenge on both his sister and her lover. No one who knows his work expects David Pountney to go the traditional route with this opera.
After viewing the 2008 production of Forza Pountney brought to the Vienna State Opera, however, the question is, what route did he choose? Working with set designer Richard Hudson, Pountney strips the opera of any geographical reality. The first half plays out on a white ramp with one end closed off in the shape of a wall. For the second half, with its battle scenes, some tower structures are added, with the platform remaining as a foundation. Costuming of the three leads tends to the drab and ordinary, with a decidedly contemporary look to the suits Hudson provides the men. Then Preziosilla dances on in a cowgirl costume, surrounded by Vegas showboys and showgirls in complementary outfits, and that fatal whiff of directorial condescension to the material creeps in. Instead of diverting a contemporary audience from the problematic nature of the Forza libretto, Pountney’s approach emphasizes the weaknesses.
The only strength Pountney brings to the show comes in his work with Nina Stemme, the Leonora. She is a tragic character almost from the start and as such risks tiring an audience with her constant pathetic appeal. Stemme adds a core of strength to the character, and though her voice lacks that warmth often called “Italianate,” her secure and smooth delivery are admirable. As her brother, Carlos Álvarez spends the entire show glowering, and though he has the right sound for the part — masculine, authoritative — he borders on comic villainy. The late Salvatore Licitra demonstrates why his once-promising career never quite fulfilled itself. He looks good, and at moments has exactly the heroic tenor sound one wants. Then he slips into lazy phrasing and passages where his intonation veers sadly off-course. Still, with so few singers able to take on these roles these days, his loss remains a very sad one.
Add to Pountney’s “ideas” having Alastair Miles sing both Leonora’s father and Padre Guardino. Miles handles both parts with impressive command, but if some point is being made, it barely seems worth considering. And do the tunics Miles and Licitra have to wear in the opening and closing scenes have some symbolic import? If not, they do serve the function of being unattractive.
Zubin Mehta also conducted a Forza released on DVD a few years ago. He knows his Verdi, and the singers never lack for dramatic support. The Unitel set has a thin booklet and no other special features. The credit sequence, with its animated sequence of a gun firing a bullet superimposed over rehearsal footage is a bad mixture of possibly good individual ideas. Even worse is when the gun imagery returns during the opera proper. Karina Fibich, credited as video director, should have rethought that one (perhaps it was Pountney’s idea).
So, for Forza on DVD, the best choice remains that old black and white version with Tebaldi and Corelli, on sets so flimsy they wrinkle when touched. It is doubtful even those singers could save, however, Pountney’s misguided approach.