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

Bohuslav Martinů – What Men Live By

World premiere recording from Supraphon of Bohuslav Martinů What Men Live By (H336,1952-3) with Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from a live performances in 2014, with Martinů's Symphony no 1 (H289, 1942) recorded in 2016. Bělohlávek did much to increase Martinů's profile, so this recording adds to the legacy, and reveals an extremely fine work.

Berlioz: Harold en Italie, Les Nuits d'été

Hector Berlioz Harold en Italie with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles with Tabea Zimmermann, plus Stéphane Degout in Les Nuits d’été from Hamonia Mundi. This Harold en Italie, op. 16, H 68 (1834) captures the essence of Romantic yearning, expressed in Byron's Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage where the hero rejects convention to seek his destiny in uncharted territory.

Le Bal des Animaux : Works by Chabrier, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie et al.

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthaüser’s latest song recital is all about the animal kingdom. As in previous recordings of songs by Wolf, Debussy and Poulenc, pianist Eugene Asti is her accompanist in Le Bal des Animaux, a delightful collection of French songs about creatures of all sizes, from flea to elephant and from crayfish to dolphin.

Wolfgang Rihm: Requiem-Strophen

The world premiere recording of Wolfgang Rihm's Requiem-Strophen (2015/2016) with Mariss Jansons conducting the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks with Mojca Erdmann, Anna Prohaska and Hanno Müller-Brachmann, from BR Klassik NEOS.

Ravel’s Magical Glimpses into the World of Children

This is the fifth CD in a series devoted to Ravel’s orchestral works.

About an enfant: Ravel’s Opera about Childhood and Debussy’s Prodigal Son

This recording of Ravel’s second (and last) one-act opera was made during a concert, and -somewhat daringly - with rather close microphone placement. As it turns out, everything went smoothly.

Halévy’s Magnificent La reine de Chypre (1841) Gets Its Long-Awaited World Premiere Recording

Halévy’s La reine de Chypre (The Queen of Cyprus) is the 17th opera to be released in the impressively prolific “French Opera” series of recordings produced by the Center for French Romantic Music, a scholarly organization located at the Palazzetto Bru Zane in Venice. (Other recent offerings have included Saint-Saëns’s richly characterized Proserpine, Benjamin Godard’s fascinating Dante--which contains scenes set in Heaven and Hell--and Hérold’s Le pré aux clercs, an opéra-comique that had a particularly long life in the international operatic repertoire.)

Complementary Josquin masses from The Tallis Scholars

This recording on the Gimell label, the seventh of nine in a series by the Tallis Scholars which will document Josquin des Prés’ settings of the Mass (several of these and other settings are of disputed authorship), might be titled ‘Sacred and Profane’, or ‘Heaven and Earth’.

Leos Janacek: Missa Glagolitica

From Decca, Janáček classics with Jiří Bělohlávek conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Given that Bělohlávek died in May 2017, all these recordings are relatively recent, not re-issues, and include performances of two new critical editions of the Glagolitic Mass and the Sinfonietta.

New Hans Zender Schubert Winterreise - Julian Prégardien

Hans Zender's Schuberts Winterreise is now established in the canon, but this recording with Julian Prégardien and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie conducted by Robert Reimer is one of the most striking. Proof that new work, like good wine, needs to settle and mature to reveal its riches.

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony — Martyn Brabbins BBCSO

From Hyperion, an excellent new Ralph Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony with Martyn Brabbins conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus, Elizabeth Llewellyn and Marcus Farnsworth soloists. This follows on from Brabbins’s highly acclaimed Vaughan Williams Symphony no 2 "London" in the rarely heard 1920 version.

Superlative Lohengrin from Bayreuth, 1967

The names of Belfast-born soprano Heather Harper and Kansas-born tenor James King may not resonate for younger music lovers, but they sure do for folks my age. Harper was the glowing, nimble soprano in Colin Davis’s renowned 1966 recording of Handel’s Messiah and in Davis’s top-flight recording (ca. 1978) of Britten’s Peter Grimes, featuring Jon Vickers.

Classical Opera: Bastien und Bastienne on Signum Classics

Pride and Prejudice, North and South, Antony and Cleopatra, Much Ado About Nothing: literary fiction and drama are strewn with dissembling lovers who display differing degrees of Machiavellian sharpness in matters of amatory strategy. But, there is an artless ingenuousness about Bastien and Bastienne, the eponymous pastoral protagonists of Mozart’s 1768 opera, who pretend not to love in order to seal their shared romantic destiny, but who require a hefty dose of the ‘Magician’ Colas’s conjuring/charlatanry in order to avoid a future of lonely singledom.

A Stunning Semiramide from Opera Rara

In early October 1822, Gioachino Rossini summoned the librettist Gaetano Rossi to a villa (owned by his wife, the soprano Isabella Colbran) in Castenaso, just outside Bologna. Their project: to work on a new opera, which would be premiered during the Carnival in Venice on 3rd February the following year, based on the legend of Queen Semiramide.

Elgar Orchestral Songs - SOMM

Edward Elgar's Sea Pictures are extremely well-known, but many others are also worth hearing. From SOMM recordings, specialists in British repertoire, comes this interesting new collection of other Elgar orchestral songs, sponsored by the Elgar Society.

Beyond Gilbert and Sullivan: Edward Loder’s Raymond and Agnes and the Apotheosis of English Romantic Opera

Mention ‘nineteenth-century English opera’ to most people, and they will immediately think ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’. If they really know their Gilbert and Sullivan, they’ll probably remember that Sullivan always wanted to compose more serious operas, but that Gilbert resisted this, believing they should ‘stick to their last’: light, comic, tuneful satire.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Giovanni Simone Mayr: Telemaco nell’Isola di Calipso
01 Oct 2017

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,

Giovanni Simone Mayr: Telemaco nell’Isola di Calipso

Siri Karoline Thornhill (Telemaco); Andrea Lauren Brown (Calipso), Jaewon Yun (Eucari), Markus Schäfer (Mentore), Katharina Ruckgaber (priest of Venus), Niklas Mallmann (priest of Bacchus). Concerto de Bassus, Simon Mayr Chorus, and Members of the Bavarian State Opera Chorus, conducted by Franz Hauk

Naxos 8.660388-89 [2CDs]

$24.69  Click to buy

recently posted on OperaToday.com, than the world-premiere recording of Mayr’s Telemaco nell’Isola di Calipso reached me, an opera from 16 years earlier, when Mayr was 34 years old. Franz Hauk, who is a conductor (and organist) in Munich, has made numerous recordings of Mayr operas, oratorios, and liturgical works for Naxos, and many of them have been praised by reviewers.

Telemaco (I abbreviate the title as the jewel-case does) is a three-act work first performed in 1797 at the famous La Fenice theater in Venice. It is freely based on a didactic French novel (1699) by François Fénelon that was intended as a sequel to Homer’s The Odyssey. Numerous other creative works, in the intervening century before Mayr came along, had been inspired by Fénelon’s novel (e.g., operas by Gluck and by Berlioz’s teacher Lesueur; also several famous oil paintings).

In Mayr’s opera, Telemaco (i.e., Telemachus, Ulysses’s son, now grown up), his tutor (unnamed: simply the “Mentore”—“mentor”), and his other male companions are shipwrecked on the island of the enchanting nymph Calipso (Calypso), whom his father Ulysses had once loved and abandoned. Calipso is still enraged at this betrayal by a mere mortal and has vowed to kill any outsider who arrives at her island. Instead, she finds herself attracted to Telemaco. He, however, is drawn to the innocent Euchari (Eucharis). Finally, Telemaco is persuaded by the Mentore to flee this island of entrapment, even though he is thereby abandoning Euchari, whom the vindictive Calipso has already threatened to kill. When Telemaco and the Mentore reach a cliff overlooking the sea, the young man suddenly hesitates, the Mentore pushes him into the water, and the Mentore then jumps in as well. The ship carrying their companions collects the two men and heads back to Greece as the curtain falls.

The story relates to a long tradition of chivalric romances (e.g., by Tasso and Ariosto) in which a young hero must free himself—or be freed by upright male comrades—from the wiles of a foreign and powerful woman. It also bears some resemblance to another myth-based opera: Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice (1762; expanded and revised in French, 1774). But Telemaco has none of the stately grandeur that marks long stretches of that famous work. It feels instead very much like a series of conversations between people whom we all know. The closest parallel in Gluck’s Orfeo to what we often encounter in Telemaco is the quarrel between Orpheus and Euridice (halfway through Act 3), when he is leading her from Purgatory back up to earth and—for reasons that he has been forbidden to explain to her—he refuses to look at her.

The performance here keeps the conversations among the characters vivid and involving. Tempos are brisk, but they are also often adjusted for appropriate momentary effect. One number moves right into the next, with no long pauses to dissipate the tension.

The singers, all clear and light-voiced, color their voices in a variety of ways, allowing us to distinguish the characters from each other and to recognize the feelings that each is experiencing at the moment. Even slight shifts in vocal color are important because the basic layout of voice-types for the four major roles could have been problematic, at least for a modern listener: the two female roles of Calipso and Euchari are sopranos; Telemaco, being a young male warrior, was written for a castrato (as were Mozart’s Idamante and Sesto) and is here likewise sung by a female soprano; and the Mentore is a tenor.

The most consistently firm and nuanced singing comes from Siri Karoline Thornhill. She is a rising star on the early-music scene, having sung Mozart’s Donna Anna under Sigiswald Kuijken and recorded a number of Bach cantatas. Markus Schäfer, a well-established recording artist (Don Ottavio and Ferrando, both under Kuijken; and Bach cantatas under Helmuth Rilling), brings great authority and variety to the role of the Mentore. Any moments where his voice sounds just a bit worn seem perfectly appropriate for a character who is old and wise. Andrea Lauren Brown is attentive to Calipso’s often-intense words, allowing us to ignore an occasional lack of solidity in her vocal production. Her embellishment of the melodic line at the end of Calipso’s final aria is beautifully realized and feels quite in character.

The acoustics are sometimes very resonant, giving undue emphasis to the three sopranos’ high notes. (The recording was made in a large meeting hall in a former Jesuit school in Neuburg, Bavaria.) The orchestra—a smallish but alert group—is recorded clearly and somehow free of that mildly annoying echo.

The basic style of the music is post-Mozartean (or post-Cimarosa, or post-Paisiello), with none of the anticipations of Donizetti and Verdi that will crop up in Mayr’s aforementioned Medea in Corinto. Still, numerous moments make a vivid impression. An early biographer of Mayr rightly praised two extended orchestral passages: a storm scene and a hunt, the latter with chorus. No less strong are the dances for Calipso’s nymphs, and the funeral march for the condemned Euchari (which alternates, to great dramatic effect, with a military march announcing the imminent departure of Telemaco’s soldier buddies—will he join them?). The orchestra often interacts in productive ways with the vocal parts: adding brass fanfares or a pastoral drone bass to an aria to point up the imagery in the sung words, or turning a recitative into a mini-scena before the aria proper begins.

Some passages of recitative are accompanied by a small string ensemble, with one player, or just a few, per part. (The whole recording is available in separate files on YouTube. An example of a recitative with reduced strings can be heard here; the character singing is Calipso.) The otherwise informative booklet-essay does not indicate whether this orchestrational “downshift” was specified by Mayr, but it works well, refreshing the ear and making the words easier to hear. The single most pleasant surprise for me in the whole recording was the end of a choral number for the Greek sailors in distress (“Ah, che fai!”): before the chorus has completing its singing, Telemaco suddenly begins to sing “What horror! By me will you have vengeance!”; his first note is long and high, emphasizing his determination and adding to the startling effect.

As for Calipso, Mayr’s skill at setting text makes the character a worthy member in opera’s long line of powerful, often vengeful women, from the Medeas of Cavalli (in Giasone), Charpentier, Cherubini, and Mayr himself to Bellini’s Norma, Verdi’s Azucena and Ulrica, Wagner’s Kundry, Dvořák’s Ježibaba (in Rusalka), and beyond. I found particularly satisfying the two trios, in which Calipso, Telemaco, and the Mentore express their different concerns in overlapping and contrasting lines. (For the trio that ends Act 1, click here. The characters heard are, in order, the Mentore, Telemaco, and finally Calipso.) In short, a fertile musicodramatic imagination is at work here, and I now understand better why generations of opera scholars (including Hauk himself, in a German-language book, 1999) have drawn attention to Mayr as a crucial figure in the development of Italian opera.

The downloadable libretto is Italian-only and not free of typos (“piagnente” should presumably be “piangente”). Fortunately, the synopsis included in the booklet is very detailed and contains track numbers to help you know where you are. In that synopsis, and also in the booklet-essay, the English translation is unidiomatic at times but never incomprehensible. The discs are slightly mislabeled: CD 1 contains not just Act 1 but also the beginning of Act 2.

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. Six of his articles have won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for excellence in writing about 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). The first is now available in paperback, and the second soon will be (and is also available as an e-book).

      

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):