View Full Version : Opernwelt – September-October, 2012, Issue Summary, Part 2

September 18th, 2012, 05:25 PM

Live Performance Reviews – End of Season

- Offenbach: Les Contes d’Hoffmann – Theater an der Wien, Vienna
Conductor: Riccardo Frizza
Director: Roland Geyer
Cast: Arturo Chacón-Cruz, Marlis Petersen, John Relyea, Roxana Constantinescu, et. al.
Reviewer’s evaluation: As was mentioned by the reviewer from “Das Opernglas,” this was the production that was such a flop at its premiere back in March that the director, William Friedkind, was asked to revise it. He refused, and the end result was that Intendant Geyer had to direct the altered performances himself. What was left nearly turned into a one-woman show, particularly since it was decided to use the Kay-Keck edition of the opera in which Stella is a sung role. Marlis Petersen was more than up to the challenge. She portrayed Olympia as a sort of Barbie doll who morphed into Paris Hilton, and brought wonderful autumnal shadings to the music of the doomed Antonia. According to the reviewer, she “dominated” this opera. Chacón-Cruz as Hoffmann produced glorious high notes, but he did not phrase particularly well and he sang with a rather quivery timbre. Relyea, as the four villains, offered sonorous vocalism but was a wooden actor. Only Constantinescu, as a very feminine Nicklausse, was able to approach Petersen’s level.

- Rameau: Platée – Württemburg State Opera, Stuttgart
Conductor: not listed
Director: Calixto Bieito
Cast: Ana Durlovski, et. al.
Reviewer’s evaluation: The action was set in a high-society New York nightclub, where Thalie (Muse of theater) inflated condoms, Bacchus (portrayed by a very busty woman) chewed merrily on a plastic -- um, representation of a male reproductive organ, Mercure and Cithéron were a pair of smooching gay lovers, and Jupither tied himself to a donkey’s – uh, reproductive appendage. In other words, a typical Bieito staging. Little is said by the reviewer about the musical performance aside from a mention of Ana Durlovski’s virtuoso singing as Folie, here depicted as a stumbling-drunk Amy Winehouse clone.
Meanwhile, at the other end of Konrad Adenauer Street, the Stuttgart Youth Opera presented Jennifer Walshe’s one-act opera, The Tactic, with the composer herself acting as Regisseurin. The work takes a critical look at the cyber generation and its submersion in virtual worlds. There are references to games: computer games, naturally, but also chess and tennis (there was an actual tennis court on stage at one point), and some fun is had with the phenomena of modern physics. The performers included six instrumentalists, four singers, two dancers, and one stunt man (!). The show wrapped up at precisely one hour and 30 seconds, as indicated by two digital clocks positioned onstage. In any case, says the reviewer, Walshe’s opera provided considerably more food for thought within that hour and 30 seconds than did Bieito with his evening-long “Regisseur-wannabe” extravagance.

- Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia – Hallwyl Castle, Seengen
Conductor: Philippe Bach
Director: Regina Heer
Soloists: Gabriel Urrutia, Trine Bastrup Møller, Blagoj Nacoski, Alessandra Boër, et. al.
Reviewer’s evaluation: The set of the outdoor stage was dominated by several super-sized volumes of books that appeared to be shelved against the castle’s wall. These tomes included a couple of Charlotte Bronté’s novels, Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” Euripides’ “Medea,” a medical textbook (clearly Dr. Bartolo’s possession), Meyer’s Conversational Lexicon, a bookkeeping file, and a Dagobert Duck comic book. This literature display was intended to portray both Rosina’s romantic longings and Bartolo’s world view. Costumes were also suggestive: Rosina in a hoopskirt and ruffles, the Conte d’Almaviva in a Regency frock coat, and Dr. Bartolo in an early 17th century collar. Figaro was a stereotypical gay barber with a succession of changing wigs; Don Basilio resembled Wagner; and Berta kept watch over Rosina in a manner that would have immediately brought to mind the governess Fräulein Rottenmeier (“Heidi”) to the Swiss audience. The books alternately functioned as Bartolo’s fortress, Rosina’s balcony, and the conveyance in which the newlywed Almavivas left for their honeymoon. Lots of imaginative touches, and yet Heer’s staging made little use of them. Among the cast, the most convincing soloists were Gabriel Urrutia (Figaro) and Trine Bastrup Møller (Rosina). Blagoj Nacoski’s lightweight lyric tenor carried well, but was lacking in vocal colors. The Argau Symphony Orchestra members did their best to cope with the dry acoustics. Bach’s conducting favored slow tempos and lacked energy.

- Erkki-Sven Tüür: Wallenberg – Baden State Theater, Karlsruhe
Conductor: Johannes Willig
Director: Tobias Kratzer
Cast: Tobias Schabel, Renatus Meszar, Matthias Wohlbrecht, Edward Gauntt, Tiny Peters, Christina Bock, Sarah Alexandra Hudarew, Rebecca Raffell, Ina Schlingensiepen, et. al.
Reviewer’s evaluation: This was the first performance of Tüür’s opera since its 2001 world premiere in Dortmund. The 53 year-old Tüür was the founder of a rock band in his native Estonia, and that background is reflected in the large orchestra where a striking mechanism – used discreetly – has a significant role. The reviewer describes Tüür as a musical chameleon who plays with styles and sound language. One can detect influences of rap and minimalism in his score. The libretto by Lütz Hubner features two Wallenbergs: the primary one, engaged in a battle with Nazi henchman Adolf Eichmann to save the Jews of Budapest; and a “Wallenberg 2,” who splits off from the incarcerated diplomat when he suffers memory loss, and develops into the Wallenberg myth. In Kratzer’s staging, many singers were fitted with animal heads; the three diplomats who pull the strings for much of the action were sung by three women outfitted like Playboy bunnies; and Eichmann shed his skin several times. For all its satiric potential, though, the opera never descended to tastelessness or lost sight of the deadly serious background issues. As the reviewer notes, brutality remains brutality; torture is still torture.
With conductor Johannes Willig and the Baden State Orchestra, Tüür’s opera was in the best of hands. Stars among the cast included bass-baritone Tobias Schabel in the title role, and character tenor Matthias Wohlbrecht as his alter ego, Wallenberg 2.

- Gordon Kampe: Anoia – Oldenburg State Theater
Conductor: Johannes Stert/Paul-Johannes Kircher
Director: Alexander Müller-Elmau
Cast: Maria Walser (dancer), Ingela Onstad, Mareke Freudenberg, Ziad Nehme, Ulrich Schneider, Daniel Fries, Anja Rabsilber, Gitta Pamin-Jensen, Undine Menzel
Reviewer’s evaluation: This is not light entertainment. Kampe’s opera deals with abuse and childhood trauma; the central figure is a young woman imprisoned in a glass cage in a bare room. She is beset by traumata, represented by other characters who attack the glass cage and attempt to get hold of her. Above and beyond this, the reviewer explains, the work looks at another contemporary problem: “the fragmentation of perception,” where things are not what they seem. The young woman is portrayed by a dancer who, save for a scream, remains silent throughout the performance. Her voice is represented by a nine-member instrumental ensemble, and four alter-egos. The opera also includes a character named Azrael (the Islamic Angel of Death), and there are singing roles for a typewriter and tape recorder (!). The “backbone” of Kampe’s musical structure is a pseudo Bach chorale, and there are cyclically-repeated quotes of Baroque lyrics. But overall, his musical language is not traditional, though it does contain “an amazing richness of color,” according to the reviewer. Little is said about the actual performance, other than an observation that the work was given a committed treatment by the Oldenburg forces. The evening’s biggest star was the dancer, Maria Walser, who movingly embodied the traumatized victim, at times even furiously throwing herself against the walls of the glass cage.


This section of the publication contains a selection of relatively short feature stories.

- “Evergreen Love”

This one-page article is devoted to the Beaune Festival, an event run for the past 30 years by the singer Anne Blanchard, and focuses on opera and oratorio from the Baroque era. It has been a magnet for the leading artists in this repertoire, and its performances have been preserved on numerous CD recordings. Among the conductors who have appeared at Beaune are Marc Minkowski, William Christie, and René Jacobs; the singers have included “an army of countertenors.” All performances are given in concert format, in the inner courtyard of the Hôtel Dieu or the Gothic Notre Dame Basilica. The festival had its origins in “old music” interpretation courses organized by Blanchard, a passionate singer who originally studied history and has found a merger of her interests in the music of the Baroque period. Currently, the Festival has a budget of 1.4 million euros, most of which is contributed by the cultural foundation of a telephone company, augmented by public funding from the city, region, and (barely) the French Ministry of Culture.
This year, Beaune featured the premiere performance of the recently discovered original version of Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso, in which the title role is sung by a baritone instead of a mezzo. It wasn’t that the manuscript was unknown; many were aware of its existence in Torino’s Vivaldi Library. However, it was Federico Maria Sardelli, the new publisher of Vivaldi’s vocal compositions, who recognized it as the work of one of Vivaldi’s colleagues (unnamed) which Vivaldi himself then revised, rewrote, and finished. Though the third act has disappeared, Sardelli was able to provide 20 new arias, some of which had to be completed based on sketches. Clearly, Vivaldi had used this opera as an experiment. The arias are almost all set at a rapid tempo, and there is remarkable dramatic power in the recitatives. At Beaune, Romina Basso (Alcina) and Riccardo Novaro (Orlando) were the most noteworthy of the soloists. Sardelli himself conducted his Orchestra Modo Antinquo with “wit and verve.”
Other offerings at the Festival this summer were Lully’s Phaeton, conducted by Christophe Rousset; short sacred operas by Charpentier with William Christie on the podium; and an oratorio setting of Pergolesi’s Seven Last Words, with René Jacobs and the Berlin Academy for Old Music.

- “Hopefully Not for the Last Time”

The 31st Belvedere Voice Competition in Vienna offered assurance that opera lovers can look forward to a number of fine young singers in the future. The future of the competition itself, however, is not so certain.
In many ways, this event reflected the current state of voice competitions and the opera “business” (my quotation marks). The singers who were most successful where those who not only had appealing voices and solid technical skills, but also were able to exhibit that quality called “personality” and present themselves well. Typical was the South African soprano Hiengiew Mkhwanazi, an ensemble member with Cape Town Opera. A possessor of “stupendous” vocal material, she shone with an energetic, engaging rendition of Konstanze’s aria, “Martern aller Arten,” and walked away with both Public’s and Media Prizes, as well as the overall second prize. The first prize winner was the young South Korean tenor, Beomjin Kim, who had an attractive, silvery voice, but appeared to be someone who sings intuitively rather than with technical skill. He’ll be fine, the writer observes, as long as his vocal chords remain fresh and he doesn’t venture beyond the lyric repertoire. But even before the final prize winners had been announced, agents were already flocking to him. As the writer notes, one can only hope he has a strong will and the ability to accurately assess his own capabilities. Stylistically most convincing was the third prize winner, the soprano Sang-Ah Yoon, also from South Korea. There were a couple of other standouts in Russian soprano Alla Vasilevitsky, currently engaged by the Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv; and the Hungarian mezzo Dorottya Lang, who has been hired by Vienna’s Volksoper.
The Belvedere Voice Competition was founded by the Vienna Chamber Opera’s Hans Gabor, and had operated since then under the auspices of the Chamber Opera. That organization has now itself been placed under the Theater an der Wien. The competition’s management team, Gabor’s widow Isabella and Holger Bleck, say discussions regarding the event’s continued existence are ongoing with the Theater an der Wien, and there is “good hope” the competition will remain in Vienna. But there are rumors circulating that the situation isn’t at all so hopeful and that the competition may end up relocating to Budapest, Hans Gabor’s original hometown.

- “Blue-and-White Checkered Charm Offensive”

I guess this is folk opera, Bavarian style. (The blue-and-white checkered pattern is a reference to the Bavarian flag.) This year’s festival at Gut Immling (literally, Immling Property, probably better translated as Immling Country Estate) was the sight for the premiere of a new opera by Christian Auer, with a libretto by Karl Heinz Hummel, entitled Brandner Kaspar. Hummel’s text is based on a short story in Old Bavarian dialect by Franz von Kobells, published in 1871, which has also received theatrical treatments by Joseph Maria Lutz (1934) and von Kobell’s great-great nephew, Kurt Wilhelm (1975). In the story, Kasper Brandner (yes, his name is reversed and spelled differently in the title), a spry 74 year-old locksmith, gunsmith, and hunting assistant living by the Tegernsee is visited by the Boanlkramer, the Bavarian folk version of Death, who wants to take Brandner with him. After making various excuses that don’t work, the wily old man finally gets the Boanlkramer drunk and, in a card game, extracts a promise that Death won’t return for him until he’s 90. This trick threatens to throw the order of things up in Heaven completely out of whack.
Auer trained under television and film composer Enjott Schneider, and Hummel worked (among other things) as a cabaret author. The product of their collaboration is described as a two-and-a-half hour mélange of Singspiel and musical. If it didn’t come off as well as hoped, some of that might be attributed to the forces at Immling, who didn’t overtax themselves with ambition and were satisfied to present it as a folk piece with a dollop of Bavarian charm – though, on the podium, Cornelia von Kerssenbeck drew refined playing from the small festival orchestra. Armin Stockerer (Brandner) and Michael Schlenger (Boanlkramer) were an appropriately crusty pair of opponents, and Auer seemed to have tailored his writing to them. The cabarettist Uli Bauer got most of the laughs as the frazzled Porter/St. Peter. Yet none of Auer’s tunes was particularly memorable; the work “lacked a genuine hit,” in the reviewer’s estimation.

- “Notes From Azerbaijan”

It’s likely few Western opera enthuasiasts have heard of the composers Zulfugar, Uzeyir, and Jeyhun Hajibeyov, or Müslim Magomajev, or of the operas Leyli and Mejnun, Ashig Garib, or Shah Ismail. Yet all of these works are repertoire mainstays at the Azerbaijani State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater (a name left over from the Soviet era) in Baku. Composed in the first two decades of the 20th century, these operas are characteristic of a type of Islamic music theater based on Mugans, stylistic forms with specific note successions, harmonies, rhythms, and ornamentation patterns. Written out for Western orchestras, the partitur of these works will include the music for instrumental sections – overture, ritornelle, ballet, finale – but for arias and ensembles, will only provide the text and the name of the Mugam to be used. Much like Monteverdi’s operas, the Mugam operas are a combination of composed and improvised numbers. The orchestra, usually with 40 members today but earlier much smaller, includes strings, winds, and percussion, and is either silent or plays only a simple accompaniment while the singer, in tandem with performers on a Tar (an Arabic guitar, similar to Monteverdi’s lute) and a Kamancha (Persian knee-violin) improvises upon the Mugam. Singing is in the Arabic style: throaty, with long melismas and elaborate ornamentation. Emotional high points are emphasized by a succession of trills or by a “trillo,” vibrato on the same note. Large scenes will include everything from spoken text to Sprechgesang to full singing.
As part of their training as teachers, the Hajibeyov brothers traveled to Georgia and came into contact there with Western opera. Their Mugam operas are a synthesis of Eastern and Western forms, where the two either combine or exist side-by-side. For example, in Zulfugar Hajibeyov’s Ashig Garib, the villain has an aria in the style of Léhar – intended to suggest disgraceful Western behavior (!).
Today, the repertoire of the State Theater is divided between Mugan operas and works by the international composers such as Mozart and Puccini. Within the 55-member ensemble are singers who specialize in Mugam roles; one can study both singing styles at Baku’s music schools and universities. For specific performances of international works, individual foreign conductors or singers may be engaged. The current Intendant is the 79 year-old Arif Melikov. A Tar player, symphonic composer, and folklore researcher, Melikov is definitely old-school. He makes no effort to conceal his dislike for the media and simply chooses to ignore questions he doesn’t want to answer. There is also little interest in promoting more of an international character for the nation’s leading opera house; neither Melikov nor any of his staff speaks or understands any foreign languages. And while ticket prices that range from the equivalent of 10-16 euros may seem an incredible bargain to Westerners, they are beyond the means of most Azerbaijanis. The annual average salary for government officials there is equivalent to between 300-400 euros.
This self-imposed isolation is unfortunate, as the exchange between Azerbaijani and other cultures could benefit both. In fact, in 2006, the Vienna Chamber Opera performed Uzeyir Hajibeyov’s operetta, Arshin Mal Alan, as a lively “Turkish” pop comedy.

- “Erst ein kleiner Papageno . . . “

This article looks at Opera Domani (Opera Tomorrow), an Italian program designed to introduce children to opera. It was established 15 years ago by Como resident Barbara Minghetti, who is also president of the Associazione Lirica e Concertatista Italiana (AsLiCo). Her objective was to directly involve children in the performance of opera, “to make them the protagonists,” she explains. The strategy has clearly worked. Today, under the auspices of Opera Domani, more than 100,000 children and youths have participated in well over 100 performances.
Under the motto, “L’Opera non fa più paura” (loosely translated, “Opera isn’t scary anymore”), AsLiCo selects a composer and one of his major works as the subjects for the year’s program. The choice of opera doesn’t exclude those that might seem at first glance not especially suited to children. “Children can understand every opera,” Minghetti says. “One must only guide them properly.” There are, however, three separate age categories in the program, with content appropriate to each. For this year’s opera, Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, the very youngest (kindergarteners and first graders) were encouraged to sing with Papageno and Papagena, who helped them search for “the little magic flute.” For the intermediate group (ages 8-13), there was a 90-minute staged production, “The Magic Flute, or How One Defeats Monsters,” which began with a video. The oldest group, those 14-18, were involved in a fictitious meeting of Mozart, Andy Warhol, and Jean-Michel Basquiat at the court of the Emperor Joseph II, which incorporated the Internet and e-learning. Musical standards in the program are quite good, with soloists coming from the ranks of AsLiCo Voice Competition winners (being held for the 63rd time this year), and the Association’s own youth orchestra, Orchestra 1813.
Before any performances are given, approximately 3,800 teachers complete their own intensive training on weekends and on weekdays after classes. In recent years, Italy’s Ministry of Education has been granting continuing education credits for this training. Then children get acquainted with the composer, librettist, and the opera’s music and plot. They paint scenery, create costumes and props, rehearse individual scenes, and (most importantly), sing. All of this takes place during regular classroom time, though Italian law only mandates music education in the first three years of middle school. This may be changing. Many new music courses have been introduced over the past few years, often at the request of parents; in some cases, parents have paid the music teachers themselves. Moreover, very few major Italian music festivals do not include some type of programming for children, and some organizations, such as the Accademia Filarmonica Romana, offer a wide variety of educational programs.
Today, Opera Domani has a budget of around one million euros, with money coming from participating schools, public cultural funding, private sponsorships, and ticket sales when additional performances are given. Patrons include UNESCO and the Italian Foreign Ministry. So far, all of the schools which have signed up to participate in the program have remained. There have been no drop-outs, even when the local opera house was unable to continue, or a city cut funding. The most faithful and enthusiastic supporting opera houses have been the small “teatri di tradizioni.” Only the very large, heavily subsidized major theaters have shown little interest in these educational initiatives.

News Briefs

- Elisabeth Sobotka, Intendant of the Graz Opera, will become artistic director of the Bregenz Festival in 2015.

- According to a study by the Nürnberg marketing research firm GfK, organizers sold 823 million euros’ worth of opera and operetta tickets in 2011. This was not only a 32 percent increase over 2009, but also represented the largest share of live performance ticket sales – ahead of rock, pop, or musicals. (The paragraph doesn’t specify who was included in this survey, but I suspect it was limited to Germany.)

- Harald Serafin has stepped down after 20 years as Intendant of the Mörbisch Lake Operetta Festival. He will be succeeded by Dagmar Schellenberger.

- The International Society for New Music celebrated its 90th birthday on 11 August. The organization was founded in Salzburg by a group of composers that included Bartok, Berg, Hindemith, Honegger, Kodaly, Milhaud, Ravel, Respighi, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Webern.

- On 10 July, the German Phono-Academy announced the winners of its 2012 ECHO Awards. Among them are:
Male Vocalist: Klaus Florian Vogt
Female Vocalist: Renée Fleming
Conductor: Riccardo Chailly
Complete Opera: Fidelio; Claudio Abbado, Nina Stemme, Jonas Kaufmann, et. al.
Symphonic Recording: Schoenberg; Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle
Young Artists: Anna Prohaska (soprano), Khatia Buniatishvili (pianist); Milos Karadaglic (guitarist); Julian Steckel (cello); Vasily Petrenko (conductor)

- Georg Friedrich Haas has been awarded the International Composition Prize of the Province of Salzburg. The prize carries a 60,000 euro endowment.

- Eva Maria Weiss has been awarded the 2012 Götz Friedrich Prize for her staging of Wolf-Ferrari’s children’s opera, Cinderella, at the Berlin State Opera’s Schiller Theater workshop.

- Thomas Amann has been awarded the 50,000 euro prize in the Christoph Delz Foundation’s Composers Competition for his work, “Les jeux/Les poupées,” which was performed at this year’s Lucerne Festival.

- The 24 year-old Chinese composer Li Bo has been awarded the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival’s Paul Hindemith Prize, with a 20,000 euro endowment.

- On 12 August, the 26 year-old Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla from Lithuania, winner of this year’s Nestlé and Salzburg Festival Young Conductor’s Award, led the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra in a performance at Salzburg’s Felsenreitschule.

- The city of Dortmund has extended Benedikt Stampa’s contract as Intendant and general manager of the Dortmund Concert House until 2018.

- British director Stephen Langridge has been named the new artistic director of the Göteburg Opera, and will assume his duties there at the beginning of the 2013-14 season.

- The state of Bavaria will provide up to four million euros to support the restoration and expansion of Bayreuth’s Richard Wagner Museum in the villa Wahnfried.

- The 56 year-old union of the theaters in Düsseldorf and Duisburg (Deutsche Oper am Rhein) seemed in danger when Duisburg officials blocked the extension of Intendant Christoph Meyer’s contract until 2019. To avoid a complete break, Duisburg’s Mayor, Sören Link, promised to become personally involved in contract renewal discussions for General Music Director Axel Kober and Ballet Director Martin Schläpfer, whose current contracts expire in 2014.

- The Italian government has announced plans to drastically reduce natural sciences and arts funding as part of an effort to trim the national budget by 26 million euros over the next three years. Among organizations impacted by the cuts is the Central Archive for Audio Recordings and Audiovisual Properties in Rome, which will be closed. Its material, which includes recordings by Caruso and Toscanini, will be transferred to a branch of the Ministry of Culture. In response, over 1,500 people have already signed an online petition protesting the closing.

- Soprano Melitta Muszely celebrated her 85th birthday on 13 September, while contralto Ortrun Wenkel will celebrate her 70th on 25 October.

- Munich’s Bavarian State Opera begins its 2012-13 season on 23 September with a new production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser, starring Robert Dean Smith (Tannhäuser), Anne Schwanewilms (Elisabeth), Waltraud Meier (Venus), and Matthias Goerne (Wolfram). The season continues with the revival of Calixto Bieito’s staging of Beethoven’s Fidelio, with Anja Kampe (Leonore) and Burkhard Fritz (Florestan). On 3 November, the series of free live streamings of Staatsoper productions will begin with Jörg Widmann’s Babylon. Each performance will be preceded by an introduction from Intendant Nikolaus Bachler. The schedule of performances and live streaming can be found at www.staatsoper.de.

CD/DVD Reviews

- Mozart: Don Giovanni
Conductor: Yannick Nézét-Séguin
Cast: Ildebrando D’Archangelo, Diana Damrau, Joyce Di Donato, Luca Pisaroni, Rolando Villazon, Mojca Erdmann, Konstantin Wolff
DG 477 9878 (3 CDs)
Reviewer’s evaluation: Highly recommended

- Bizet: Carmen
Conductor: Sir Simon Rattle
Cast: Magdalena Kozená, Jonas Kaufmann, Genia Kühmeier, Kostas Smoriginas, et. al.
EMI 50999440 28527 (2 CDs)
Reviewer’s evaluation: Problematic. Outstanding performances from Sir Simon and his Berlin Philharmonic, Kaufmann (Don José), and Kühmeier (Micaela). But Kozená’s “bloodless” Carmen leaves a hole at the center of the drama.

- Mayr: Demetrio, Re di Siria
Conductor: Facundo Agudin
Cast: Bénédicte Taurin, Amaya Dominguez, Piotr Friebe, et. al.
Oehms Classics OC 958 (2 CDs)
Reviewer’s evaluation: An adequate performance of Mayr’s final opera.

- Mayr: Samuele
Conductor: Franz Hauk
Soloists: Andrea Lauren Brown, Susanne Bernhard, Rainer Trost, Jens Hamann
Naxos 8.572721-22 (2 CDs)
Reviewer’s evaluation: Mayr had to compose this oratorio within a limited amount of time, so he “recycled” (my word) many arias from his operas. But there are also some very original numbers, such as Samuel’s Melodrama with harp accompaniment. This recording primarily serves to fill a gap; the performance itself is only adequate.

- Massenet: Cendrillon
Conductor: Bertrand de Billy
Director: Laurent Pelly
Cast: Joyce Di Donato, Alice Coote, Jean-Philippe Lafont, Ewa Podles, Eglise Gutierrez, et. al.
Virgin Classics 6025 0995 (2 DVDs)
Reviewer’s evalution: Highly recommended, with a bonus feature of interviews with the conductor, director, and protagonists.

- Richard Strauss: Elektra
Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra
Soloists: Michéle Charbonnet, Angela Denoke, Felicity Palmer, Matthis Goerne, Ian Storey
LSO 0701 (2 CDs)
Reviewer’s evaluation: There are better audio recordings of this opera available. The three principals sing attractively (usually) and intensely, yet somehow, the drama eludes them. Gergiev’s reading of the score is often “routine,” though admittedly at a high level.

- Simone Kermes: “Dramma”
Orchestra: La Magnifica Comunitá
Arias from operas by de Majo, Porpora, Leo, Hasse, Handel, and Pergolesi
Sony LC 06068 (1 CD)
Reviewer’s evaluation: Fans of Baroque opera will probably want this recording, though Kermes’ vowels (especially the “e”) sound more Germanic than Italianate.

- Roberta Invernizzi: Vivaldi Opera Arias
Conductor: Fabio Bonizzoni
Orchestra: La Risonanza
Glossa 8 424562 22901 3 (1 CD)
Reviewer’s evaluation: This is also a recommended recording. Invernizzi is generally a less mannered, more subtle interpreter than Kermes. But her technique is not completely flawless, and her voice can sometimes lack a distinctive color of its own.

- Sandrine Piau: “La Triomphe de l’amour”
Conductor: Jérôme Correas
Orchestra: Les Paladins
Arias from operas by Campra, Charpentier, Favart, Francœur, Grétry, Lully, Rameau, Rebel, Sacchini, et. al.
Näive OP 30532 (1 CD)
Reviewer’s evaluation: Reactions to this recording may vary. Piau is one of the most competent interpreters of the French Baroque repertoire today, and her performance here often reflects that. However, the lack of vibrato in her voice can be a matter of taste, and she’s inclined to use this trait too frequently, and not always with dramatic motivation. In general, she characterizes well, but the really exciting moment is kind of missing.

- Christiane Karg: “Amoretti”
Conductor: Jonathan Cohen
Orchestra: Archangelo
Arias from operas by Gluck, Grétry, and Mozart
Berlin Classics 0300 389BC (1 CD)
Reviewer’s evaluation: Highly recommended. Karg sings these rarities with impeccable style and dramatic conviction. Her diction is clear, and her pronunciation is idiomatic, whatever language she sings in.

Book Reviews

- Rodney Bolt: “Lorenzo Da Ponte: The Adventures of Mozart’s Librettist in the Old and New Worlds”
Translated from English by Martin Pfeiffer
Berlin Verlag, Berlin
The reviewer has a generally positive opinion of this book. He says it won’t increase one’s understanding of Mozart’s Da Ponte operas, but it will provide insight into Da Ponte’s own background and character. However, I suspect most people who are interested in this subject will prefer to read Bolt’s book in its original English version.

- Eva Gesine Baur: “Emanuel Schikaneder. The Man for Mozart.”
C. H. Beck Verlag, Munich
Despite the author’s extensive research – there are over 300 titles listed among the references – the reviewer found this biography of another Mozart librettist unsatisfying, and Baur’s assertions sometimes questionable.

- Markus Thiel: “Edita Gruberova: Singing is my Gift”
Bärenreiter/Henschel, Kassel
The reviewer rates this as one of the better singer biographies. If you can read German and you’re a fan of Gruberova, you may want this.