Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Recordings

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

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.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

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.

Review: You Promised Me Everything

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’.

Donizetti: Les Martyrs

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.

Green: Mélodies françaises sur des poèmes de Verlaine

Philippe Jaroussky lends poetry and poise to the sounds of nineteenth- and twentieth-century France

A worthy tribute for a vocal seductress of the ancient régime

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.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

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.

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail @ Hangar-7

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: Notturno

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 Sings Mahler Lieder

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.

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. 



Mariinsky MAR0512 [2CDs]
24 Mar 2012

Lucia and the glass harmonica

Flute players in opera orchestra around the world must look forward to the frequent appearances of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, knowing that while the stage spotlight in the mad scene will be on the soprano, the orchestral spotlight will be on their instrument.

Gaetano Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor

Natalie Dessay: Lucia; Vladislav Sulimsky: Enrico; Piotr Beczala: Edgardo; Dmitry Voropaev: Arturo; Ilya Bannik: Raimondo; Sergei Skorokhodov: Normanno. Sascha Reckert, Glass Harmonica. Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. Valery Gergiev, conductor. Recorded in the Mariinsky Concert Hall, St Petersburg, 12-16 September 2010.

Mariinsky MAR0512 [2CDs]

$31.99  Click to buy

Unless…the conductor follows the fashion of adhering to the composer’s original thought and employing a glass harmonica in place of the flute. And that occurs more and more often. Two pieces of evidence here: a 2006 Bergamo Musica Festival production, and perhaps more surprisingly, the 2010 Mariinksy Theater recording. In both cases, the glass harmonica definitely adds to the creepy atmosphere of the scene. The Mariinsky recording offers a sharper aural picture, and the glass harmonicist etches a very clean line of echoing response to soprano Natalie Dessay. The glass harmonica counterpart in the Bergamo recording seems to be caught further from the microphones, slightly dulling the intended effect.

However, in most other respects the Bergamo version scores points over the Mariinsky. Some might have wondered if the starry names associated with the Mariinksy would mean a rival to the opera’s best recorded versions might be appearing. Such is not the case. Conductor Valery Gergiev has a broad symphonic repertoire, but his leadership of Italian opera has received mixed notices. Here, he sustains a poised reading, with no errant tempos or capricious highlighting of stray orchestral detail. Ultimately, however, the reading is a bit dull. More of that Gergiev idiosyncrasy might have helped. The supporting cast is mostly Russian (or at least house singers of the Mariinsky). The heavy tones of Vladislav Sulimsky’s Enrico and Ilya Bannik’s Raimondo blur the characters and veer toward cartoonish villainy.


Gergiev has two superstars as his leads. Lucia is a Natalie Dessay specialty, but this recording almost clinically details the wear and stresses on her instrument from her most recent vocal crisis. The voice is intact, but the suppleness is gone, and high notes fly uncomfortably close to screech territory. Surprisingly, Piotr Bezcala also seems to be in less than ideal voice, with his long final scene occasionally rushed and forced. Both have behind them many finer performances in these roles.

The recordings coming from the Mariinksy label benefit from handsome art design and traditionally generous booklets.

The Naxos, on the other hand, has a thin booklet and nothing else (this is the audio version of a performance also available from Naxos on DVD). The live production was nothing special to look at, and the audio version allows listeners to focus on what an idiomatic conductor and orchestra can provide, as well as the less starry but very capable cast.

Luca Grassi as Enrico and Enrico Giuseppe Iori as Raimondo both possess the right sound for their roles. As Edgardo, the Naxos offers Roberto De Blasio, a rising tenor who has started to pick up a few Metropolitan Opera assignments in the last season. He has just the right weight for the role - masculine, yet limber. In the years since this 2006 recording, he has hopefully brought some more distinctive coloring to his singing. In the title role, Désirée Rancatore puts on a high note display, with crisp coloratura. The middle voice, however, sags under a loose vibrato. Dessay may sound exhausted in her mad scene (not inappropriate), but Rancatore exhausts her listeners in hers, with more of an assault on the scene than an interpretation.

If neither of these versions comes anywhere close the best of the many available recordings of Lucia, the Naxos still deserves the edge for its fluency and old-fashioned commitment.

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):