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

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

The Devil, Greed, War, and Simple Goodness: Ostrčil’s Jack’s Kingdom

Here is a little-known opera that, like an opera by the Swedish composer Laci Boldemann that I have reviewed here, and like Ravel’s amazing L’enfant et les sortilèges, utterly bypasses the usual categories of comic and grand/tragic by cultivating instead the rich realm of fantasy and folk tale.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Urania WS 121.304
06 May 2017

Urania Remasters Marriage of Figaro

Good news for lovers of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro: the famous Living Stereo recording, a co-production of RCA Victor and English Decca, is now available again, well remastered, on Urania.

MOZART: Marriage of Figaro

Lisa Della Casa (Countess), Roberta Peters (Susanna), Rosalind Elias (Cherubino), George London (Count), Giorgio Tozzi (Figaro); Vienna Philharmonic and State Opera Chorus/ Erich Leinsdorf

Urania WS 121.304 [3CDs]

$39.99  Click to buy

Recorded in 1958, it won a Grammy for Best Opera or Choral Performance, a category that was split into two in subsequent years. The features noted by many previous critics (e.g., in Alan Blyth’s Opera on Record, vol. 1, and the Metropolitan Opera Guide to Recorded Opera) still register vividly today. The vocalism is splendid in the five central roles and strong even in the smaller ones.

The LP box trumpeted the cast as “selected by the Metropolitan Opera.” Of the five leading roles, four are filled by North Americans (Giorgio Tozzi was born in Chicago; George London was born to a Jewish family in Montreal, the family name being Burnstein). Lisa Della Casa was Swiss, and the comprimarios, orchestra, and chorus are nearly all European. The one exception in the smaller roles is that Marcellina is sung by the characterful Sandra Warfield (who performed 172 times at the Met and also appeared often in Europe). George London—renowned for his performances in Wagner—makes a very resonant and powerful-sounding Count. Scholars stress that Figaro is, for musical and dramatic reasons, the more bass-like of the two roles, whereas the Count should more properly be a suave baritone. But London makes a fine case for having a true bass in the role and never sounds uncomfortable on high notes. Much praise is due to Gabor Carelli, a character tenor whom I’d never encountered before. He nicely differentiates the two roles of Basilio and Don Curzio, and does Basilio’s Act 4 aria as well as anyone could wish.

Throughout the recording, the humor can get a bit exaggerated, notably in recitatives, as if for the benefit of audience members who don’t understand Italian and, in big halls, are sitting far from the singers. Supertitles have nowadays eased some of this pressure.

The singing is also rarely very soft, presumably another habit deriving from big halls. But this is no stand-and-shout performance: dramatic continuity is often paramount and is enhanced by welcome moments of intentional overlap between the end of one recitative and the beginning of the next or between a recitative and the beginning or end of a musical number.

Leinsdorf’s conducting is brisk and somewhat metronomic, in ways that paralleled habits that were developing around the same time within early-music performance. Few embellishments are made to the vocal lines. Leinsdorf actually wrote a book explaining his belief in trusting the letter of the score: The Composer’s Advocate: A Radical Orthodoxy for Musicians.

The recording quality is still vivid, 59 years later, with fine use of stereo directionality to help clarify on-stage movement, especially in the famously intricate Act 4. The performance is nearly note-complete: the only trims made during the recording sessions were in the Act 2 finale. Thus we get both Marcellina’s and Basilio’s arias in Act 4, unlike on some other recordings and in many live performances.

To the Italian label’s credit, Urania has allowed the opera to spill over onto a third disc. Thus nothing from the original release has been removed. By contrast, EMI omitted Basilio’s Act 4 aria when it rereleased the famous Glyndebourne/ Gui recording on 2 CDs. (Too bad, as the performance of that aria by Hugues Cuénod had been singled out for special praise by critics of the original LPs.) The CD breaks are sensible ones: middle of the long Act 2 and beginning of Act 4.

With an opera as oft-recorded as Figaro, it is inevitable that certain musical numbers, especially arias, have been performed more magically somewhere else, e.g., on a recital disc. Ezio Pinza, for example, made two wonderfully detailed renderings of Figaro’s sarcastic “Se vuol ballare”; and that same aria is likewise more nuanced in complete recordings and videos of the opera with Samuel Ramey or Bryn Terfel than as sung here by Giorgio Tozzi. By contrast, certain arias and other numbers in the present recording are totally treasurable, displaying a near-ideal wedding of vocal command and dramatic intent. These include—to restrict myself to a single act, the third—the marvelously timed duet between the Count and Susanna, Lisa Della Casa’s exquisitely floated yet fully characterized “Dove sono,” the duet “Sull’aria”—with a nicely flowing accompaniment that somehow manages to suggest Susanna’s act of writing the Countess’s dictated words—and the scene in which, while a fandango is being danced, the Count surreptitiously receives the letter from Susanna and inadvertently pricks himself with a pin. (Leinsdorf conducts that fandango with an air of electric anticipation.) OK, I have to add Roberta Peters’s marvelous “Deh vieni” in Act 4, in which she marvelously suggests that she is at once trying to imitate the Countess’s (creamy) voice and also that she is expressing her own abiding love for Figaro, who, she knows, is hiding in the shadows, overhearing her. No wonder many people have loved this whole recording across the decades. I’m a little embarrassed that, until now, I had never heard it in its entirety. The orchestra and chorus, from the Vienna State Opera, do their jobs superbly (except for some slight problems with wind intonation in “Deh vieni”).

The set’s third CD has enough free space to permit inclusion of an entire three-movement instrumental work: what used to be called Mozart’s Symphony 37, which we now know was composed by Michael Haydn (brother of Joseph; it’s variously numbered Perger 16, Sherman 25, and MH 334). Mozart simply wrote a slow introduction for the first movement. As played by Leinsdorf and the Royal Philharmonic, the piece feels tuneful, compact, and consistently engaging. The performance is presumably the same one found in the conductor’s long-prized recording of the “complete” Mozart symphonies. This meant, at the time, the 41 works that had long been available in the Breitkopf und Härtel Gesamtausgabe. Since that time, additional early symphonies by the composer have become known and recorded. Originally available in the US on Westminster LPs, Leinsdorf’s symphony set is currently available on Deutsche Grammophon, 7 CDs. The early symphonies are in stereo. The symphony heard here is in relatively clear mono, with a nice balance between winds and strings. On the original releases the Royal Philharmonic was—presumably for contractual reasons—renamed the Philharmonic Symphony of London.

But to return to the main work here: Leinsdorf’s 1958 Figaro remains dramatically vital and musically gratifying and could easily be anybody’s first choice, especially if they own a copy of the score or libretto. (The booklet contains nothing but a track list, which, by the way, erroneously assigns Basilio’s aria to Bartolo.) Frequently recommended also are recordings conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini (the one I know best, though the Count shouts too much), Erich Kleiber, George Solti, Bernard Haitink, and both of those that are conducted, with keen attention to theatrical effect, by Colin Davis. (Further, see the two books mentioned above and the Mozart Operas Overview, by Ralph Lucano, in the January/February 2002 issue of American Record Guide.) The René Jacobs recording has special attractions for its intimate atmosphere and quick interactions between cast members and for some bracing freedoms taken in the vocal parts. I have not heard the recent recording by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Ralph P. Locke

The above review is a lightly revised version of one that first appeared in American Record Guide and appears here by kind permission.

Ralph P. Locke is emeritus professor of musicology at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music. His most recent two books are Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections and Music and the Exotic from the Renaissance to Mozart (both Cambridge University Press).

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):