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

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.

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

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

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

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

Giovanni Simone Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

Matthias Goerne: Bach Cantatas for Bass

In this new release for Harmonia Mundi, German baritone Matthias Goerne presents us with two gems of Bach’s cantata repertoire, with the texts of both BWV 56 and 82 exploring one’s sense of hope in death.  Goerne adeptly interprets the paradoxical combination of hope and despair that underpins these works, deploying a graceful lyricism alongside a richer, darker bass register.

Gramophone Award Winner — Matthias Goerne Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge

Winner of the 2017 Gramophone Awards, vocal category - Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach - Johannes Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge and other Brahms Lieder. Here is why ! An exceptional recording, probably a new benchmark.

Véronique Gens: Visions from Grand Opéra

Ravishing : Visions, Véronique Gens in a glorious new recording of French operatic gems, with Hervé Niquet conducting the Münchener Rundfunkorchester. This disc is a companion piece to Néère, where Gens sang familiar Duparc, Hahn, and Chausson mélodies.

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch should be a huge hit. Just as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appeals to audiences who don't listen to early music (or even to much classical music), Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Ediciones Singulares ES1026 [CD]
24 Nov 2017

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

Karine Deshayes (Malvina), Yann Beuron (Uthal), Jean-Sébastien Bou (Larmor), Sébastien Droy (Ullin), Philippe-Nicolas Martin, Reinoud Van Mechelen, Aravazd Sargsyan, Jacques-Greg Belobo (bards). Les Talens Lyriques, Choeur de Chambre de Namur, conducted by Christophe Rousset.

Ediciones Singulares ES1026 [CD]

$34.99  Click to buy

Or they avoid the problem by not performing the work at all. The French operatic tradition, in particular, is full of important works with spoken dialogue that we rarely get to see on stage: some comic (e.g., by Auber or Adam), others serious (e.g., by Cherubini or, as here, Méhul).

Recording a little-known work, whether in the studio or during a performance, can give performers a chance to find out whether it retains enough vitality to speak to present-day listeners. I am currently reviewing two works with spoken dialogue and will soon post them here: Hérold’s Le pré aux clercs, a long-loved French opéra-comique whose tone alternates between giddy and grim; and, most unusually, an Italian work: De Giosa’s comic opera Don Checco. (The latter recording was actually made during a staged performance, apparently quite a successful one.)

Here we have the first fully satisfactory modern recording of the one-act opera Uthal (1806) by Étienne-Nicolas Méhul (1763-1817). This work has long been praised for its unusual treatment of the orchestra, but performances have been few. An LP of a BBC studio performance from 1972 was once available on a pirate LP; it can now be retired.

The opera’s story comes from the writings of “Ossian,” a bard purported to have lived in southern Scotland in the third century. The Ossian epics were beloved in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, even after it became known that they were, to a significant degree, inventions by a Scottish poet named James Macpherson, not (as Macpherson had at first claimed) translations from Gaelic originals. In Méhul’s opera we meet Malvina, her aged father Larmor, and her husband Uthal, who has deposed Larmor. There is much mention of Fingal, the people’s leader; many of us still recognize that brave warrior’s name through the other standard title for Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides” Overture: “Fingal’s Cave.” The libretto was written by J. B. de Saint-Victor, largely in classical alexandrines (rhymed verses consisting of six-plus-six syllables, as in the great tragedies of Corneille and Racine).

The many intriguing musical moments include an arioso for Malvina (track 9) in which orchestral fragments of the tramp-tramp of the warriors (who have just left the stage) can still be heard; the first chorus of bards, to which Malvina then overlays an entirely different melody (track 10); and the soliloquy aria for Uthal upon his long-awaited first appearance, halfway through the work (track 12). One senses here an opera composer who is never content to provide music in an automatic, conventional manner—and one from whom Berlioz, who likewise loved to layer disparate musical materials on top of one another, learned a lot.

Another intriguing moment: a solo cello, in high register, threads its quiet way through that aria of Uthal’s, playing long notes that form the melodic core of his vocal line, which has been somewhat more elaborated by the composer to allow for extra syllables in the text. (The vocal lines throughout the opera are on the plain and direct side, with nary a hint of coloratura.)

The singers here all have steady and attractive voices and sing their texts persuasively. They speak the dialogues well, though with a very wide dynamic range: I had to turn the volume up for some patches of whispering and then turn it down again when a character became agitated or insistent, or when the singing returned. But this complaint is also a compliment: the performers take the work seriously and make sure to convey the drama at every turn. And of course one can skip the dialogue tracks (clearly marked in the track list) and go from musical number to musical number.

My favorite singer here is Karine Deshayes, whom I have previously praised in Rossini arias and as the pagan queen in Félicien David’s 1859 opera Herculanum. Jean-Sébastien Bou sings beautifully as the father, though his lowest notes lack fullness, as was also true when he played another heroine’s father: in Lalo and Coquard’s La Jacquerie. The much-recorded tenor Yann Beuron—his voice still firm at 48—conveys well the resoluteness of the title character Uthal.

Christophe Rousset’s early-instrument group plays with spirit, accuracy, and much tonal variety. The orchestration is somewhat dark, because Méhul excluded the violins: instead, he called for a larger-than-usual viola section and divided it into two parts to provide the top lines of the string choir. (Brahms would similarly do without violins in his orchestral Serenade No. 2 and in the first movement of the German Requiem.) The absence of violins is frequently relieved by many other interesting instrumental effects. We often hear two very woodsy flutes, colorful stopped notes from two unvalved horns, and glinting arpeggios from two light-toned period harps. Passages of tremolo for the string sections are full of energy and impulse. The chorus (men only) is small but spirited and nearly always clear in pitch. The solo singers playing Ullin and four other bards—cousins, in a sense, to Oroveso and the druids in Bellini’s Norma—have only a little to sing, but they do it superbly.

The small book that comes with the CD contains excellent essays and background readings in French and English (including substantial passages by the composer, the librettist, and three nineteenth-century critics, one of them being Berlioz); the libretto is likewise given in both languages. The alexandrine lines are broken up into shorter ones on the page. This inadvertently disguises the verse meter and the rhyme schemes. But a reader, once alerted, should be easily able to restore mentally the original layout. Translations throughout are straightforward but occasionally too literal to be immediately clear.

The performance materials were prepared, and the recording funded, by the Center for French Romantic Music, located at the Palazzetto Bru Zane (Venice). The recording sessions took place in the Versailles-palace opera house, whose acoustics have long been admired. The Center’s website offers one track from the CD—Uthal’s cello-aria discussed above—plus a video interview with the conductor.  An informative interview with the conductor can be seen on YouTube (with snippets from the recording). And YouTube offers track 18, in which the bards calmly of glorious battles from the past, while Malvina keeps interrupting them as the sounds of actual battle increase offstage, pitting her husband against her father, increase offstage. The published score can be downloaded at IMSLP.org.

I urge anyone who has a fondness for Cherubini’s Médée (or Medea, as it is known in its more usual Italianized version) to get to know this work by Méhul. You are in for an hour of pleasant surprises in the areas of melody, harmony, orchestral color, musico-dramatic cogency, and Napoleonic-era cultural mythology.

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):