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

SWRmusic 19016
14 Jan 2018

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”.

Ravel: Shéhérazade and L’heure espagnole

Stéphanie d’Oustrac (Concepción), Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (Torquemada), Yann Beuron (Gonsalve), Alexandre Duhamel (Ramiro), and Paul Gay (Don Iñigo Gomez). Stuttgart Radio Orchestra, conducted by Stéphane Denève

SWRmusic 19016 [CD]

$18.99  Click to buy

The opera presents some quick-moving events in the lives of a clockmaker’s wife and the four wildly different men with whom she is variously involved (one being her husband). The CD is officially vol. 4 of a series covering Ravel’s “orchestral works,” a phrase that here clearly means “works with orchestra”. (The two piano concertos and Tzigane are presumably scheduled for some future volume.) The Stuttgart orchestra plays very capably throughout, but the star of the CD is mezzo-soprano Stéphanie d’Oustrac.

Opera lovers may remember d’Oustrac as the title character in the DVD of Lully’s Armide with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants. Her voice, as befits an experienced singer of early music, is firm and precise; her diction is wonderfully clear. True, it does not bloom as fully as that of some other singers who have recorded one or the other of these two pieces: for example, soprano Régine Crespin in her classic recording of Shéhérazade or Suzanne Danco in her two recordings of L’heure espagnole. A few of d’Oustrac’s loud high notes glare. But the compensations are numerous and gratifying. For example, in the first movement of the song cycle, d’Oustrac brings great variety to the list of foreign places and sights that the persona of the poem declares that s/he would love to visit (if only in the imagination). She brings tension and fear into the narration as the images move to include assassins and beheadings, yet without ever breaking the smoothness of the vocal line—quite an achievement!

The mezzo brings this same vocal mastery and keenness of characterization to the role of Concepción in L’heure espagnole. She differentiates wonderfully between moments when Concepción is addressing one of the other characters and when she is musing quietly to herself. She catches many glints of humor, not least in the frequent word-play. (One end-rhyme is as unlikely in English as in French: “biceps”/“concepts”.) D’Oustrac’s attention to the conversational nature of the words is further emphasized by her clear and natural-sounding pronunciation; the letter “r” is guttural, as one hears it in most of France, rather than rolled (or some say trilled) in an Italianate manner.

The four men sing extraordinarily well and—being, like d’Oustrac, native French-speakers—pronounce the sometimes rapid dialogue beautifully. Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, a renowned high tenor, limns the character of the clockmaker superbly. Yann Beuron and Paul Gay are careful to avoid caricature in roles that are patently ridiculous: as a result, their performances will hold up well to repeated hearings.

My one slight disappointment was with Alexandre Duhamel as Ramiro. This mule driver is supposed to sound tongue-tied and a bit naive, until he is alone and suddenly becomes (as the score prescribes) “dreamy” and even somewhat eloquent. Duhamel does sound quite sensitive in the latter passage, like a superb singer of art song. (Duhamel is indeed an experienced recitalist. The role of Ramiro, for high baritone, was originally sung by Jean Périer, Debussy’s first Pelléas.) But, up to that point, he is merely bland, as if not quite sure how to play a character who seems, to the other characters on stage, almost dim-witted. (Another fine recent recording of this same opera features Duhamel in the same role, and his reading is just that bit more specific.) Duhamel’s voice is not very different in sonority from that of Gay, the Don Iñigo, so a listener unfamiliar with the work may need to consult the libretto often.

Ravel_back.png

Denève and the orchestra follow the singers every step of the way, or sometimes (as required) anticipate and guide them. One can sense the players’ enjoyment of numerous passages, such as the galumphing figure that repeatedly accompanies, in interestingly varied ways, the heavy-footed Ramiro (as he lugs grandfather clocks upstairs and down) or the long trombone glissando that comments on the discomfort of overweight Don Iñigo, stuck inside a big clock.

The recording was made at two performances on successive nights, presumably done “in concert” (without costumes and sets). The audience is extremely quiet until the end, when they erupt in applause, cheers, laughter, lively conversation, and some cries of “Olé!”

With such an intricate and quickly moving score, there are bound to be passages that are done a little differently on other fine recordings. Critics have longed praised the recordings of L’heure espagnole conducted by Ansermet and Cluytens (both monophonic). Apparently the stereo recordings conducted by Maazel, Previn, Slatkin, and Armin Jordan all have some particularly admirable features, as does a 1960 mono recording conducted by Bruno Maderna. (Some of these recordings can be sampled, with pleasure and profit, on YouTube.) I can attest that the very first recording of all—conducted by Georges Truc in 1929—retains special charms. Not least, the properly pompous-sounding Don Iñigo in that historic recording is Hector Dufranne, who was the original Golaud in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, 27 years earlier! (The opera’s concluding Quintet, brimming with character, can be heard on YouTube. For contrast, here’s the same number in the recording under review—more refined in vocal production, and less broad in its comic inflections.) But this new recording can stand proudly next to any of the aforementioned. And it comes with, as a bonus, D’Oustrac’s captivating recording of Shéhérazade.

The booklet contains the texts, in French only, and an informative essay in German and in what is rather Germanic-sounding English. (Some long sentences should have been broken up.) The booklet misspells the name of the renowned mezzo-soprano Jeanne Hatto, who gave the first performance of Shéhérazade.

There have been two videorecordings of the opera from Glyndebourne. One was released on videotape in 1987 and is now on YouTube. The other, a 2012 performance on DVD, has been highly praised by critics and online purchasers. D’Oustrac and Gay perform the roles that they sing on the present CD (here they are in that same final Quintet: Gay, as Gomez, is the man in the business suit), and the DVD also includes Ravel’s other, and equally imaginative, short opera, L’enfant et les sortilèges.

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). Both are now available in paperback, and the second 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):