View Full Version : Modern and Contemporary Opera on DVD, blu-ray, and CD

December 6th, 2011, 03:44 PM
The Passenger by Weinberg

Michelle Breedt (Lisa)
Roberto Sacca (Walter)
Elena Kelessidi (Martha)
Artur Rucinski (Tadeusz)
Svetlana Doneva (Katja)
Angelica Voje (Krzystina)
Elzbieta Wroblewska (Vlasta)
Talia Or (Ivette)
Agnieska Rehlis (Hannah)
Helen Field (Old Woman)
Liuba Sokolova (Bronka)

Vienna Symphony Orchestra & Prague Philharmonic Choir, Conductor: Teodor Currentzis
Stage Director: David Pountney

The Polish-Russian composer Mieczysław Weinberg wrote Pasażerka, (The Passenger), in 1968, but it was not premiered on stage until 2010, at the Bregenzer Festspiele, 14 years after Weinberg's death. The libretto was written by Alexander Medvedev, who was more fortunate, but died just five days after the premiere.

Based on a tale by a Polish survivor from Auschwitz, Zofia Posmysz, it relates the encounter in the 1950s, aboard an ocean liner, of a married German couple, Lisa and Walter, with Martha, a former inmate of a concentration camp where Lisa, unbeknownst to her husband, was a guard. The story moves along in two planes: the present, where Lisa must confess her guilt to Walter, and find a way to live with the things she did to Marta, and the past, where we see the life in the concentration camp and the death of Martha's boyfriend on a whim of the commander.

For Weinberg, this was extremely personal, as both his parents and a sister were killed in the Nazi death camps. The score is powerful, tense, bare of any ornament. But at the same time, with some beautiful and lyrical moments, like the encounter between Martha and her boyfriend, and her delicate aria, along with heavy dramatic parts, like the gloomy night in the third scene.

The staging by David Pountney is fantastic, with the luminous deck of the liner, and the dark interior, where the Auschwitz's scenes are played. The orchestra and singers offer us a good team performance. The Opera is sung in German, English, French, Russian and Yiddish, each character in their own language.

Overall: B+. Recommended for all Opera lovers.

A few days ago, there was the first staging in the UK, at ENO. This is the trailer of the production:


Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 6th, 2011, 04:06 PM
Very interesting, Schigolch, this sounds just like the opera that invites psychoanalytical interpretation, so when our new friends arrive, I'll point them to this post of yours, thanks.

December 7th, 2011, 07:20 PM
I'd really like to find Posmysz's original book and read it as background. Unfortunately, nothing turned up on Amazon. I will keep looking -- I think familiarity with the background would enhance my listening to this opera.

December 7th, 2011, 07:27 PM
In the DVD there is an interesting booklet, and also a documentary that can provide the background you claim.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 12th, 2011, 12:28 AM
Azguime: Itinerário do Sal on DVD
399 years of opera… I’ve just watched Itinerário do Sal (Salt Itinerary) by contemporary Portuguese composer Miguel Azguime, pushing my temporal operatic span to almost four centuries, given that the oldest opera that I’ve seen is Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, composed in 1607, and the newest one is this piece composed in 2006.

Contemporary classical music has been a subject of debate in this forum. I find myself liking it more and more, without losing for not even a single moment my appreciation for the older forms – I still love baroque, classical, romantic, and modernist operas - basically I love opera in all forms, sub-genres, and eras – give-me opera buffa, seria, bel canto, verismo, operetta, opéra comique, Wagnerian musical drama, whatever, and I’ll gobble it up.

But I digress. Back to this piece. It’s proposed, in terms of classification, as an “electroacoustic and multimedia opera.” It is available on DVD and can be ordered from Amazon.com for $30. It was released in 2007 by Miso Records, well packaged with a multilingual insert (English, Portuguese, French, German) containing two short essays about the piece, a synopsis, the full libretto in original Portuguese and translated into the other three languages above, the biographies of the artists, and an interesting interior cover art (by interior I mean under the exterior sleeve which looks more generic) containing a mosaic of the scenes (approximately 350 small thumbnail pictures of the staging, which is nice in terms of remembering and savoring what I’ve just seen on the TV screen). Justifying the somewhat stiff price for a DVD with a running time of 50 minutes is the fact that a CD with the full opera is also included, and there are two nice extras – a 35-minute fascinating interview with the composer, and a 10-minute documentary with the audience, with dozens of people who were walking out of the theater being stopped and asked the question: “Is this really an opera?” The answers are insightful and interesting – and I’d definitely agree with the predominant opinion that yes, this piece is definitely an opera.


This is a live performance in Lisbon, filmed in 2006. Miso Records is a small company specializing in Portuguese contemporary classical music (founded by the composer himself), and even though like I said the packaging and insert are good, the technical side of the DVD is less good. The image is sharp enough but has some occasional flicking in the bottom part of the screen. The sound, if you crank it up too loud, runs into distortions. Anyway, if you bring the sound a little lower and you don’t mind the occasional flicking and a certain amateur feel, it is quite acceptable in spite of some blunders in terms of camera angles and close-ups (sometimes what is going on behind the performer on the video screens can’t be seen because of close-ups of his face). There are subtitles in all four languages mentioned above.

OK, so, I started by doing my “homework,” that is, by reading the two short essays, the biographies, and the libretto. At one point I was thinking, “oh boy, I want my money back, can I just send this piece of crap back without even watching it?” This sort of prejudiced view was brought about by certain phrases from one of the essays: “It is as though the sound wrote the sound itself. The same might be said of the writing: the lines trace their own possibility as a written form.” [Whaaaat??? Says Almaviva]http://www.talkclassical.com/images/smilies/eek.gif

It continues: “Sound and line are notations in the second degree: the being that they designate is the being that they themselves are.” “The signs become the actual music and the body another disincarnate sign object.” “By means of the multiplying effect of mediations and sensorial saturation that they imply, the digital machine allows the textualization of sense in the sensors, the sonic effects and the projections. The digitalization that affects language itself is manifest in the combinatorial logic that regulates the phrasal structures and in the paronymy which determines variations in the words.”

By now I’m thinking –“Holly crap! Where is the exit door??? What kind of pseudointellectual drivel is this?”http://www.talkclassical.com/images/smilies/mad.gif

Then I decide to calm down and read the libretto before I throw this thing in the garbage can. It doesn’t reassure me at all. Here are some parts of the libretto, for your delight:

“Blable blebla blelebela
Belelabas labalebe
Lebalabele belebala
Labalaba balalabe”

And another part:

“tataaca… taacata… tatacaa… cataata…”

(No, it's not because you don't speak Portuguese... it makes no sense in Portuguese either).

OK, I’m thinking, where is some_guy who recommended this crap to me? Is he going to refund me my $30? I’m feeling pretty angry, and thinking that this was not what I had planned for my Saturday of watching opera with my wife and doing other fun things instead of posting here non-stop.

“Oh well,” I tell my wife, ”it’s not likely that some_guy will send us a check in the mail for our trouble and I doubt that we have a case for a legal suit for emotional damage, so we may as well pop this ** into the DVD player and have a laugh at the excesses of vanguard contemporary so-called composers.”

That’s when this thing blew us away and left us speechless.

Oh! My! God! This is a brilliant piece of work, wildly creative, utterly fascinating! We watched it with a smile on our faces from the first through the 50th minute, and regretted it when it ended! We wanted more!

Mr. Azguime, while trained in flute and piano as well, is primarily a percussionist. Most of what we might call orchestration in this piece – I mean, metaphorically speaking since there is no orchestra – is percussion, augmented by electronic means. But wow, this is probably the most interesting percussion I’ve ever seen. He does his percussion with his *voice*, his fingers, and a sort of electronic table (I’ve seen one of those in a friend’s house) that makes reverberations out of a magnetic field, and you play it by waving a metallic object above it. What is most interesting about this, is the fact that he uses *words* as percussion elements.

And here, a strong caveat: the libretto is for the most part in Portuguese, with a relatively long part in French, and the short epilogue is in German. I don’t speak German, but I do speak fluent Portuguese and French, and I believe that this work will suffer *extremely* in translation – as confirmed by the composer himself in his interview. Many of the most genial aspects of the work have to do with how he uses and twists the phonemes of the Portuguese and French languages (I can’t tell as well but he seems to do the same to German), and with his puns and word play. I must add, he is a poet as well, and a darn good one. He wrote the libretto himself, and it contains some exquisite contemporary poetry. What this guy is capable of doing to words is quite amazing. Like he said in the interview – “I have provided the translation of the libretto, but it won’t do much good because what I did can’t be translated.” So, if you guys take the $30 plunge and order this DVD, don’t blame me if you don’t enjoy it as much as I did, because if you don’t speak Portuguese you’ll miss much of the fun. But this is not meant to discourage the purchase, because there’s still fun to be had even without the linguistic aspects.

It is a one-man show. It’s just Mr. Azguime on stage, with his weird percussion table, and two large video screens behind him. He “sings,” acts, and plays his percussion. I’d say, yes, it’s singing, since he uses his voice to produce a number of effects that do have a musical quality, in terms of using the timbre of his voice, having rhythmic intervals, etc. And besides, percussion is music too.

As for the acting, it is simply phenomenal. Mr. Azguime does stuff with his facial expressions that you must see to believe in it, like for example in the “coughing” sequence. The video component is very interesting as well. We’re in the company of an accomplished and intelligent artist.

While there is no plot so to speak, the three parts *are* coherent, make sense, and show a logical progression. They start with a good dose of metalanguage, playing with the concept of the presence versus the absence of the author, in a reflection that is a bit of opera-within-the-opera as it introduces scenes of the public entering the theater and supposedly asking themselves – has it started already? – while the author/performer/composer is sitting on the stage but visible just as a shadow. Multiple images of eyes stare at the public (there is a nice explanation for his idea of these eyes, in his interview).

The second part brings us to the core of the message being conveyed here, one that Jacques Lacan and his disciples would love: essentially, the power of the signifier: the formal envelope of sound that constitutes words, the materiality of sound itself with its aspects of moving air, vibrations, waves – and how the combination of these elements can transmit meaning.

Mr. Azguime knows sounds, and lavishly demonstrates his expertise. We can almost feel the oscillation of sound waves, and we can see them as well on the screen behind him. He plays with a pen as a writing instrument that can produce sounds on his percussion table. Letters are projected behind him and on top of him, they combine to form signifiers, and they begin to shape up a story that while subtle and abstract, does make sense: the story of creativity itself, the attempt to answer the question of what exactly is this thing that an artist can transmit to his audience.

Finally the third part brings us to the meaning of his title, the Salt Itinerary. Salt is white. Mr. Azguime talks to us about a light that encompasses everything to the point that nothing can be seen any longer, just a white blindness. It reminds me of Mr. Azguime’s fellow Portuguese artist José Saramago, the Nobel Prize winning author of Blindness, a book in which the metaphorical epidemic of blindness that hits Portugal has all inhabitants but one seeing only white in front of them. When pushed to its limit, the creative/artistic process takes an itinerary that goes from the presence/absence of the artist, to an attempt to transmit, to an excess of transmitted meaning (the infinite combinations of signifiers) that ends up obliterating everything, first in an oppresive black confluence of letters and words, next into a vast whiteness akin to death.

Salt is also life and spice, he tells us later in his interview, but I do see in the ending of his opera a notion of a complete arc that touches some kind of impossibility, of fading and disappearing into a sea of whiteness. The Epilogue opens with the words: “Out there / outside the itinerary / there’s no salt / there’s not enough salt for them / and not enough sun.” It sounds quite nihilistic to me.

This work is profoundly expressive, and causes inside the very being of the spectator a deep emotional experience.

Is it opera, after all? You bet. Mr. Azguime says in his interview that he thought that calling this piece “opera” would be provocative – as opposed to something like “multimedia one-man show with musical (i.e., the percussion kind) and theatrical aspects,” and he does realize that it doesn’t fit the frame of 19th century operas, for example. But then, he thought of Monteverdi, and decided that he is entitled to calling his work an opera. It is actually closer to Monteverdi than 19th century opera is. It puts on stage a relatively static singer/actor who throws at the audience a modulated sea of sounds that are used to convey a dramatic arc.

399 years later if he could be here among us to witness this, I think that Monteverdi would have liked this piece. I did. Actually, I loved it!

Highly, highly, highly recommended. Thanks, some_guy! You don’t need to mail me that refund after all!

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 12th, 2011, 12:34 AM
Chaya Czernowin: Pnima... ins Innere on DVD

This is said to be an opera in three acts, although it certainly stretches the concept of opera.

Running time 65 minutes. Münchener Kammerorchester conducted by Johannes Kalitzke.

There are two actors on stage who don't sing or speak. Vocalists on the sides of the stage do the vocalizations. These are: Richard Beek, Philip Larson and Tom Sol do voices for The Old Man, and Elias Maurides, Ute Wassermann and Silke Storz do voices for The Young Boy.

There is no traditional libretto. The story is that of a boy who encounters his grandfather, a traumatized holocaust survivor (or so they say, we wouldn't know).

This work was commissioned for the Munich Biennale 2000, was selected by Opernwelt as the best premiere of the year, and won the Bayerischer Theatre Prize in 2000. Apparently there were 70 rave reviews from all over Europe.

Technically, the DVD has aspect ratio 4:3, subtitles in English, German, French, and Spanish, the sound is 24-bit PCM stereo. The insert has a brief essay in three languages (English, German, French) and the biography of the artists. There is a 27-minute interview with the composer.

The chamber orchestra is made of clarinet, saxophone, trombone, singing saw, percussion, viola, violoncello. Electronic sounds are added.

In big letters, there is this piece of advice on the back cover of the insert:

"Play as loud as possible". Sure, I will.

OK, so, it's starting.

The overture (here called opening) is entitled Miniatures, lasts 10 long minutes, and is nothing more than a grainy movie of city traffic that goes on and on, with the orchestra reproducing various traffic noises, screeches, horns, sirens, etc. Kind of boring if you ask me. It would have been OK for 2 minutes, no need to stretch it to 10.

The screen on which the movie was projected falls down, and behind it we see a naked room. The old man is seen passing by the only lighted point, a door giving to another room (that's what you see on the cover picture above). He goes back and forth. The orchestra is now doing carpentry kind of sounds - wood creaking and cracking, nails being hammered, other noises like pots and pans. Then we get something that is almost close to music - of the ominous kind... and the voices start to vocalize. Some moans and whistles. Lights come on, we see the full naked room and the orchestra engages in some sounds that can only be described as a bunch of chickens and parrots. Some more pots and pans. We hear laughing. Loud percussion like someone banging on a door. Some miawling and doggy barks. The old man moves around, looking positively demented and frail. Birdie sounds. He gets close to that window you see on the cover image, and looks frightened. The orchestra screeches lowdly. The old man throws some sort of seeds on the ground. Horns get loud. He is frightened again. Walks back and forth. The orchestra now does hyenas.

Thank God, some 10 seconds of silence.

The Young Boy enters. He plays with a stick. A film is projected again, of himself in some green woods. Lights out. The images get shaky and I feel dizzy.

Bells come up, then the orchestra does cows. This orchestra seems to love animals.

Stroboscopic lights (oh boy, my eyes are hurting by now). The old man is frightened (OK, I got the point already - he is frightened. Hum, hum).

We are 24 minutes into this "masterpiece" and I'm tired already. But I'll soldier on, for the good of this review.

Buzzing sounds, like the room is infested with flies and mosquitoes. the boy is gone while it was dark. Now under the stroboscopic lights the old man walks back and forth again. He seems to try to catch mosquitoes in the air. Oh well, fortunately the stroboscopic lights are gone, I was getting a headache.

The old man looks, guess what? Frightened. The orchestra is mostly doing windy sounds. Lights off again. Boy comes back.

Images of his eyes are projected. Bright lights - really bright - flood the stage and he runs away. Oh Jesus, the stroboscopic lights are back. The orchestra is thankfully silent, at least.

We are treated to some more of the street traffic movie, this time projected on the walls of the naked room, accompanied by - surprise! - traffic noises.

Old man faces the wall. Boy comes back. Orchestra comes to life again, doing crying sounds (or are the vocalists doing them? I'm getting confused and dizzy). Boy downs a Mickey Mouse mask (at least I think that's what it is, the lighting is terribly dark again).

Boy walks slowly towards the old man. Almost touches him. Old man turns to face him. Boy walks slowly backward. Lights are off again. Loud percussion. Lights on again.

Oh well, we have just reached the mid-mark, 32 minutes and 30 seconds. I have to endure this for just 32 minutes and 30 seconds more.

Lights are off but the boy comes back with a flashlight and chases the frightened old man around, who moans lowdly, which the orchestra takes as a cue to engage in a lot of screeching and disjointed percussion.

Old man hides behind a door. Covers his head with his jacket, tries to escape the boy.

The singing saw does some saw singing.

Oh no, I can't believe it, here are the stroboscopic lights again, and the huge image of an eye. Bluish this time. Old man is cornered on the left corner of the stage. Boy stands there, looking at him for a couple of long minutes. More than that. This goes on until at least 39 minutes (still going as I type this) but there is a change: rattling sounds. And silence. And some growling. Old man lefts the room from the left side. Boy yawns. (I do too). Grainy film shows old man's face. Vocalizations immitate goats. It's a full zoo, this "opera."

The green woods again. Pots and pans, birdie sounds. For a long while, until 43:30. Bright lights flood the room again. Old man is back, facing the window. Boy walks slowwwly towards him.

He throws some sort of small ball on the ground towards the old man who looks... yes, frightened. Boy downs mask again. Resumes walking towards old man. Vocalizers do baby sounds. Old man runs past the boy, then resumes his back and forth walking. Lights off. (what exactly is going on now?)

Grainy movie. Woods. By night. Orchestra gets more like an owl. Very appropriate.

Old man briefly hugs boy who then walks away, old man faces wall.

Lights off, damn! Bright flood lights again. Damn again! 47 minutes. How much longer do I need to take this? OK, 18 more, I guess.

Ghostly sounds. Bright flood lights. Old man is seriously frightened, tries to climb up the window. Can't. Walks back. Turns off the lights - hey, there is a light switch, yay! Turns on the lights.

Boy walks towards old man. Slowwwwwly. Screechy sounds. Boy takes old man's hand and looks at it very interested. Drags old man to middle of room. Removes weird mask. Old man tries to touch his face, boy runs away. Lights off. Grainy movie of boy sleeping on a lawn. Windy sounds, really windy, trees are shaking, boy runs away.

Now the orchestra does some raining. More wind. Neither boy nor old man are in the room, but we get more stroboscopic lights. Wind suddenly stops, 52 minutes. We get the city traffic movie again, with breathing sounds.

Suddenly the orchestra seems to remember that they need to do street traffic sounds, then, they oblige.

Lights off. Lights on. Lights off. Lights on. Lights off. Vocalizations.

Lights on for good. 54 minutes.

Boy comes back. Looks around. No old man to be seen. Gets a marker, draws on the wall. A human face. Or is it an alien? Might be an alien since now the orchestra does electronic space age sounds.

The camera is too far, I can't see what he's drawing. Screechy sounds. He draws and draws. OK, the camera gets closer - not an alien. It's a human adult (the old man?). Lights off. Parrot sounds. Grainy movie of a long corridor. Breathing sounds of someone walking and panting. Everything is very dark. Like a dog panting. 58:30.

Lights on again (the boy turns them on at the light switch).

Looks at his drawing. Messes it up with his hands.

Lights off. The orchestra does some locomotive sounds.

Boy hides behind door. Grainy movie of the woods by night. Suspenseful, ominous sounds. Lights on. Boy comes out of his hiding place behind the door. Walks around. Sits down. Silence (I really treasure these little silences).

62:30. Almost over, folks. Boy remains seated. Irregular loud percussion and some horns. Lights off (I knew it!)

Lights on. Bright flooding light. Really bright. We can barely see the boy. The entire room disappears in the white light. Lights off.

The end.

I'm supposed to write a comment on this. I'll be very brief.

From the back cover: "Pnima is a self-assured model for the future of new music theater."

My comment:

OK, guys, the above is the uninformed, lay review.
Now what follows is Almaviva’s review.
First of all, would I call this opera?
I actually resent this denomination, and I wonder why the composer wanted to call this an opera. Is it to get some sort of endorsement, of validation?
Is this really in the line of tradition of Monteverdi, of Lully, Rameau, and Handel, of Mozart and Weber, of Wagner and Verdi and Rossini, and Donizetti and Bellini and Puccini, and Richard Strauss and Stravinsky and Schoenberg and Berg, and Britten and Saariaho and Adès?
No, Ms. Czernowin, I say no!!!
Opera needs operatic singing. Opera needs a libretto. Please, don’t call this opera. Please don’t say this is the future of opera because you’d be killing it. There are plenty of good operatic contemporary composers who don’t want to kill the genre. Please don’t.
This said, is your piece good, Ms. Czernowin? Absolutely! It is gorgeous! Formidable! Exquisite! But we need to know why, and we need to call it for what it is.
Is it musical theater? Well, it depends on how far you want to go when you define music. And you know, I ‘m willing to go pretty far, and I did call Itinerário do Sal an opera, because percussion is music, and there is singing.
Your piece, Ms. Czernowin, doesn’t have singing AT ALL, and barely has music. We can’t call it opera. We may not even be able to call it musical theater. I’d call it “theater with special sound and light effects.”
Yep, I get contemporary music, and I actually like it. But you go a bit too far. Your music is a collection of nature sounds (lots of animals) and object sounds (pots and pans, wood, nails and hammers). All very interesting and appropriate, but hardly musical.
This said, is this really relevant to your piece?
Not really, and as long as we don’t call it music, we can enjoy it by approaching it for what it is.
So what is it?
It is extremely sensitive and insightful theater. It is of the highest possible quality.
What do we have here?
We have a generational problem.
The old man is a holocaust victim. His existence is forever shattered from the sheer overwhelming dimension of his trauma. He wanders around, perplexed, mute, wide eyed, and he can’t communicate with not even his world, much less his grandson.
So we get in the first act his tentative and frightful experience. He is the full expression of the consequence of senseless violence, he can’t really absorb into a symbolic/imaginary amalgam, what happened to him. He is condemned to walking back and forth, to navigating between light and shadow, to looking at the world outside the window without ever getting back to it.
The first act carefully develops this extreme suffering and this curtailed human experience.
Then in the second act the boy comes in. He is a member of the third generation. He hasn’t had that experience of the Holocaust. He’s had snippets here and there of some mysterious trauma that has forever fractured the connection between one generation and the next. So he approaches the situation with the infantile tools he’s got at his disposal. Sticks. Mickey Mouse masks. Marble balls. A marker.
He senses the despair of his grandfather but can’t really grasp it. However, he tries. He approaches him. Slowly. Gives the old man some leeway, he understands that he is fragile. But he persists. He tries harder and harder, tries to touch him, withdraws, tries again, gets a light, flashes light into all this darkness, which only results in even more fear. He tries to incorporate into his infantile world, this tragedy that was just hinted at, just spoken about in half hushed whispers.
He isn’t very successful. The old man is beyond help. The trauma has been too intense. The two characters are sort of incompatible. They both try to engage each other in some sense of proximity, but their worlds don’t overlap. They touch each other, and run away, scared, and scarred. There is no possible symbolization of the immense tragedy that has broken the link between one generation and the next.
We get to the third act. The boy is now alone. He draws. He tries to find the image that he has made of the grandfather. He aims at introjecting that suffering, that fear, that hyper-arousal and dissociation that he can sense in his grandfather. He wants to understand, to make something out of it, so he draws. But this apprehension is necessarily insufficient since the boy is not of his grandpa’s generation and can only marginally grasp the horror that has preceded him. So, he messes up his drawing. It won’t do. There is no contact point. He has tried his best. In his own way, so did his grandfather. But the fracture is too deep. At the end, the boy sits down and is silent. He was unable to find the link, the bridge. He gives up. Curtain.
This is extremely expressive, sensitive, insightful theater.
The human dimension of this piece is overwhelmingly deep and disturbing.
What about the music?
Oh well, it does convey the entire atmosphere.
It does bring up many raw emotions.
The composer says, in her interview that is part of the DVD: “I didn’t want to make it accessible. I wanted to make it raw and difficult, because what it tries to convey is impossible to absorb.”
Or something to this effect. I may be adding to it.
So, did I like it? You bet! It is outstanding!
Just, I wouldn’t call it opera. Call me old fashioned (I’m not), but please, don’t call it opera, Ms. Czernowin.
One word about the meaning of an artistic piece.
Does this piece show some internal coherence? Would we know that it depicts a situation of a family that is generationally fractured because the older side has been through the Holocaust, the younger side hasn’t?
No, we wouldn’t, if we weren’t told about it by the composer herself, and the insert and cover materials.
But does it matter? Can’t we appreciate abstract art and project on it whatever meaning we feel the need to project? Yes we can.
But then, the Holocaust situation – while it explains a lot and gives sense and meaning to the piece – is not even necessary here.
Just the demented, frightened, traumatized old man, and the young boy who tries his best to connect to him using the simple tools of his childhood – a marble, a stick, drawing… - provide enough human drama, enough of the universality of the human experience that characterizes great art.
This piece *is* great art. It *does* touch us on a visceral level. And let's acknowledge it, the sounds *are* quite intesting. I may even be able to call them music after a second or third viewing. Just the sheer inventiveness of some of the sounds (there is a cardboard played like a cello, and a singing saw, for Pete's sake!) would keep my interest.
This said, I’d rather that opera *didn’t * go in this direction. I’d rather see opera preserving words and singing. Or else, what is the point of calling it opera?
Regardless, final verdict on this work: highly recommended.

P.S. - I which I knew what the title means, though. I couldn't find the translation anywhere. Please let me know, if anybody here has a clue of what Pnima... ins Innere is supposed to mean.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 12th, 2011, 12:35 AM
Schreker: Die Gezeichneten on DVD
Franz Schreker premiered this opera in 1918. The production I'm watching is from the Salzburg Festival in 2005, conducted by Kent Nagano, with the Deutches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. The title means 'the stigmatized' or 'the branded ones.'


Impecable technical quality of the DVD with 16:9 anamorphic widescreen, linear PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS 5.1 (I love it when there is DTS). Subtitles in German, English, French, and Spanish. Image and sound are simply gorgeous, almost blu-ray quality. The text in the liner insert is insightful but short and there is no synopsis. Camera direction by Andreas Morell is expertly done. One regrets that such a quality DVD doesn't have extras, interviews, documentaries. Oh well, we can't have it all. The running time is 135 minutes.

Conducting and orchestra are phenomenal, making the best out of Schreker's outstanding overture which is said to, in itself, justify his claim to fame (I'd agree).

It is profoundly regretful, however, that there are approximately 20 minutes of cuts in the orchestral parts. There is no third act pantomime, and second act vocal lines about the painting of Alviano's portrait have been eliminated.

Sound balance between singers and orchestra is good, but sound engineering is one of the only faulty aspects of this EuroArts DVD with microphone placement in the huge stage not always capturing the singers' voices with the same relative volume when there are too many characters singing simultaneously. The problem doesn't happen when only one or two characters are singing.

Stage design by Raimund Bauer is strikingly beautiful. Direction by Nikolaus Lehnhoff is impressive, in the matter of placement of singers on stage as well as the dynamics of the various spaces. Costumes are creative and interesting. But then, there are problems. The original opera does start with the main character engaging in cross-dressing, but the staging takes this too far by continuing it beyond the initial scene (not the case in the original opera) and makes the painting scene unrecognizable - instead of painting Alviano on a canvas, Carlotta instead removes his pieces of feminine clothing, leaving him wearing a body stocking. It is interesting in terms of conveying the baring of his soul (which *is* in the libretto) but for those who don't know the plot, it all becomes quite incomprehensible - the inevitable bit of Eurotrash staging.

Acting is first rate. There is very good casting in the sense that the singers very much look their parts. Singing is mostly of high quality, with some exceptions.

Robert Brubaker as Alviano is particularly good with a powerful sonority; his voice is very well projected above the very extensive orchestral forces, and also nuanced with good musicality, as well as excellent articulation. He does falter in a couple of moments but when you consider the fact that he's got a lot of stage time, he does extremely well. Michael Volle is Tamare and does his part very well too, with a sort of raw brutality, but he seems to be less musically savvy than Brubaker (or maybe his vocal writing is just less subtle, given the character's boorish persona).

The numerous secondary male roles for the most part do a very good job - Robert Hale, Wolfgang Schöne, and various others.

The leading soprano in the role of Carlotta is Anne Schwanewilms. She looks very classy and is fairly attractive (a bit too old for the role), although her singing is less pleasant to my ears than that of her male counterparts (she has her fans, but I'm not one of them and I don't find her voice to be particular beautiful, it is actually a bit unpleasant in parts, too steely). Upon warming up she does get better, but I'd still say that for me she is the weakest link (those who like her voice will disagree), which is a pity given how mostly everything else goes well for my tastes in this production (minus the incomprehensible Eurotrashy changes made to the second act painting scene, and the musical cuts).

Musically speaking this opera is quite spectacular, with incredible tone-painting, and an ever-moving through-composed score with parlando vocal lines that sometimes soar up in beautiful effects. This opera seems to sit pretty in the middle of the modernist movement, and plays like a cross between Wagner, early R. Strauss, and Berg, being both melodious and fractured (the former especially in the first act, and the latter especially in the chaotic and maddening third act).

Talking about the third act, yes, there are boobs, but Alma's Boob-O-Meter didn't show a high reading. The boobs are cute enough, but the way they are presented is not really erotic. It works, though, it's a Venice carnival kind of thing (but this is Genoa?!?!) and they add to the exoticism of the costumes. But unlike this writer's usual disposition, the boobs didn't really add a lot to his (my) enjoyment of this production. Oh well, it's always better to have boobs than not.http://www.talkclassical.com/images/smilies/wink.gif

Boobs or not, the third act *is* outstanding, delivering some of the best operatic moments of the 20th century. After seeing this, I won't say that it has dislodged Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District as my favorite 20th century opera, but it got close to doing it.

The theatricality of the libretto is strong, with good character development and psychological depth. The plot is the story of an ugly man, Alviano (tenor), and his struggle to find his place in the world among those who are lucky to be beautiful. Carlotta is a consumptive painter who wants to draw his portrait, and in her artistic enthusiasm she seems to fall for him, which quite overwhelms him. However once she finishes the painting, the magic is broken, and she falls instead for the virile Tamare (baritone). Alviano goes mad, kills Tamare, and Carlotta dies calling for Tamare (hehehe, one of the rare cases in which the soprano falls for the baritone).

The are some more plot elements (involving Alviano's island, the people of Genoa, dissolute friends, orgies - one of the reasons why the Nazis banned this opera as 'degenerate Jewish art') but the above is the lowdown.

This is a fine example of modernist opera, packed into a high quality DVD product. It may function as a good transition for those who want to migrate from baroque, classical and romantic opera to modernist and contemporary opera.

Highly recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 12th, 2011, 12:41 AM
Tan Dun: The First Emperor on DVD

Again I'm watching this on MetPlayer but it is available on DVD.

The visuals are stunning, given that the staging was directed by one of the most talented film authors alive, Mr. Zhang Yimou, who has directed some of my favorite Chinese movies, such as Raise the Red Lantern and The Road Home (he's better known for Hero, not my favorite of his).

This is really spectacular staging and in itself makes of this DVD a recommended one.

Unfortunately the operatic aspects are less successful. Basically, as commissioned by the Met, Mr. Tan Dun tried to fuse Chinese and Western opera traditions, in all regards: there are both Western and Chinese singers (including a bona fide Chinese Opera traditional singer in the role of the Yin-Yang Master); there are conventional Western instruments and traditional Chinese instruments (string and percussion); choreography and costumes are entirely Chinese; and a few parts are sung in Chinese, while most of the libretto is in English. Both librettists (the composer himself, and a fellow countryman whose name escapes me) are not native English speakers, and it painfully shows.

Musically there is also a mix - some parts are typical Chinese music, other are under heavy Western influence.

So here is the problem:

Basically everything that is Chinese about this production works, and works really, really well. Everything that is Western, doesn't, and fails really, really badly.

First of all, having the libretto in English was a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE mistake, one that practically dooms the whole enterprise. There is definitely NO WAY for these English words to mix efficiently with the Chinese music. It only makes it all sound ackward, bordering the ridiculous.

This could have been a formidable opera, if entirely sung in Mandarin. In English, it just miserably fails.

The orchestration is often very interesting, no doubt. If only we didn't have to listen to the most ackward phrase constructions and to impossible stretches of the phonemes...

Some misguided critics have complained of the "silly and improbable plot" which is ridiculous criticism since the plot is entirely based on real life historical events. Yep, life can be silly and improbable events happen in life, especially if they have happened 2,000 years ago; they can indeed seem improbable to modern men as they belonged to a radically different culture with completely diverse values and priorities. And in Western opera, it's not like we don't see silly and improbable plots.

Singing is very uneven. I don't think Plácido does particularly well here, but Plácido is Plácido so he manages to pull it off anyway. Paul Groves is much worse. Elizabeth Futral looks cute but her singing is so-so. This may have to do with how difficult it is for the Westerners to sing this ackward English and these weird phonetic stretches, because the singer who does best is the Chinese one, Mr. Hao Jiang Tian. Michelle DeYoung of the Westerners is the one who does less poorly, in my opinion.

Tan Dun himself conducts and seems to do well as far as my untrained ears go, in terms of Chinese music. The best orchestral parts are those that include Chinese instruments, which deliver very exotic and interesting sounds.

So next time, Mr. Tan Dun, no fusion, please. Just do it Chinese all the way, with subtitles in English. We'll like it a lot better.

But such a gorgeous staging and lots of curious and beautiful parts (the first and last scenes are the best ones, and it's no coincidence that they are the two most Chinese-looking scenes) still earn from me a recommendation.

There is a very interesting 'making of' documentary with Tan Dun, Plácido, and the other artists. What is interesting is that Futral's singing is better in the documentary, maybe she was having a bad night or a cold. But she adds the eye candy factor.
http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTPeHSfd7tmVQkGPOYJCF9bAjZSYHG9J o_czl3s4o1XMG3Zqq2aNw&t=1

Last but not least, the opera is introduced by lovely, extremely beautiful Chinese movie actress Zhang Ziyi (she is stunning), so, more eye candy like this actually helps.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 12th, 2011, 12:43 AM
André Previn: A Streetcar Named Desire on DVD

André Previn himself conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestra
This is the World Première, filmed live in September of 1998

Libretto - Phillip Littell, after Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

Blanche DuBois – Renée Fleming - soprano
Stanley Kowalski – Rodney Gilfry - baritone
Stella Kowalski – Elizabeth Futral - soprano
Harold "Mitch" Mitchell – Anthony Dean Griffey - tenor
Eunice Hubbel – Judith Forst
Steve Hubbel – Matthew Lord
Newspaper Collector – Jeffrey Lentz
The Mexican – Josepha Gayer
Pablo Gonzales – Luis Oropeza
The Doctor – Ray Reinhardt
The Nurse – Lynne Soffer

The DVD is of good quality with sharp 1.78:1 image, and uncompressed PCM stereo sound of excellent clarity and good balance. There are no extras, and no subtitles (which shouldn't bother native English speakers, not to forget that the play is too well known therefore knowledge of the libretto is already a given). The staging is very good and realistic-looking.

Review to follow:

OK, I'm watching it, and I'm a bit at a loss. I'm not sure what exactly the music is adding to this already excellent stage play. I don't think Previn's orchestration is especially successful here, and even less his vocal writing.

And to my surprise, I'm not liking this younger version of Renée Fleming that much, I think she is too loud and shrieking at times, and she looks less good than her more mature self. Also, her acting seems to be less good than what I've grown used to, in her latest productions. Renée seems to improve with age.

Elizabeth Futral is very pretty in this production (nice boobs, which like you all know is a big plus for mehttp://www.talkclassical.com/images/smilies/wink.gif), and sings and acts well, actually better than Renée, I think. I mean, Renée's voice is more beautiful and powerful than Futral's smaller lyric soprano, but it's just that Futral seems to be much more natural and into her role than Fleming, in this production. So her singing matches her character, while Fleming's seems too forceful.

Most likely Gaston will disagree, I know that he liked this a lot. I don't know, maybe it's too early to say, I'm still watching the first act.

Stanley Kowalski is very impressive, and also looks the part.

But I think what we need here to make of this a spectacular opera is a better composer. I don't know, something is missing. The orchestration seems too obvious, and seems to chase the drama around, and to follow behind it, instead of leading it as good operatic orchestration does. I can't shake off the impression that this is a movie score rather than an operatic one.

Maybe I'll change my mind later with subsequent acts; we'll see; but for now, while I like the production and the cast (OK, I made some reservations regarding Renée's singing and acting, but only when compared to her own improved standards of late; she's still very good in this production), it's the opera itself that I don't like so much, in musical terms.

Added later:

I've seen a lot more now, and must say that Renée's singing and acting got better - being this the world première, maybe she just wasn't very into it at first, and warmed up to the role as the opera went by.

Anthony Griffey as Mitch is very good too.

This is a very talented cast, a good staging, and a product with good quality of image and sound.

But I continue to dislike the music. While certain jazzistic elements are interesting (given the play's setting in New Orleans), overall this score doesn't seem very polished to me. It plays too much like a movie sound track.

In terms of recommending this or not, I guess by now I know what to say: this is with no doubt a recommended DVD for those who want to own a copy of Previn's opera. The only problem is, I don't know if owning a copy of Previn's opera is that recommendable to start with.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 12th, 2011, 12:45 AM
Vladimir Deshevov: Ice and Steel on DVD

2007 (LI) - Will Humburg - Saarländisches Staatsorchester, in Saarbrücken
Opera in four acts, sung in Russian
Stage direction - Immo Karaman
Singers - Yevgeny Taruntsov, Anna Toneeva, Hiroshi Matsui, Oxana Arkaeva

ArtHaus Musik product, with 16:9 format, excellent definition and colors. Soundtracks include LPCM, DTS 5.1 and Dolby 5.1. Subtitles in 6 languages. Running time 96 minutes. The only extras are trailers for four other operas. Sound balance with the LPCM track is less than ideal - the singers are too loud and the orchestra too soft. I haven't tried the other tracks. This impacts significantly on the appreciation because it makes the opera sound like a stage play with some distant background music.

Scenarios are practically nonexistent. The first act has just a platform and some construction tubes. Lighting makes everything look blue including the singers' faces. A few characters are dressed in red, all others in dark clothes that look bluish under the lighting.
More people get dressed in red in the second act. Oh wait - the front of their garments is red, the back is black. They keep turning one way or the other.

The atmosphere is nightmarish, post-apocalyptic, with grotesque characters, violent scenes, conflicts.

The plot has to do with a popular revolt against the oppression of the newly started communist regime in the early 1920's.

The music is all fragmented, disrupted, ominous, with a lot of percussion and machine-like sounds. There is robotic-looking choreography representing workers in a factory, sort of like in Modern Times. There's lot of running around, fights break right and left, it's all very chaotic.

Vocal writing has basically recitatives that contain a lot of yelling.

Attempts at shock value are numerous. But somehow it all falls flat.

The global result is visually unpleasant and vocally tiresome. The libretto doesn't really take off. One thinks - OK, these people are being oppressed. OK, they are rather mad. The Party officials keep trying to thwart them. OK... So?

Lines go like this: "While people are starving, the commissioners are living large." Oh well, too bad. Yep, it happens. So?

"The working class of our Soviet Union won't let the Revolution down." Yeah, yeah, sure, but it's a bit dated. Next we have "better die for freedom than live in shame." Hm... OK... can we change the librettist, please?

Staging contains the obligatory big time metaphor being pushed down our throats: a huge red hand with an index finger that comes down on the people. I did mention that they were being oppressed, didn't I? Right. We get it.

3rd and 4th acts do get a little more interesting and more colorful, with some more defined plot. But it's a bit too late, by then we don't really care for these characters. The ending has in my opinion weak music and again excessively obvious metaphors. The white army (the goodies) get's defeated by the red army (the baddies) but then the last warrior - a woman in red - posing like a statue, gets brought down by another army that wasn't there before - this one dressed in business-like suits. Capitalism ends up prevailing. Curtain.

I like the orchestration more than the rest - that is, when I can hear the orchestra. I could use less yelling.

Verdict: not recommended. Stay clear.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 12th, 2011, 12:46 AM
Kari Tikka: Luther on DVD

This is contemporary opera by a live composer, who conducts the work himself. It premiered in 2000.

The DVD was released in 2005 by Ondine and preserves the 2004 Finnish National Opera production, sung in Finnish. It was recorded live at the striking Rock Church in Helsinki (Temppeliaukion kirkko) with its natural stone walls (really inside the bedrock) combined with beautiful modern architecture. The DVD has an interesting 28-minute documentary about the opera, the historical context, and the setting, including a long interview with the composer and interviews with the artists. It also contains a 6-minute tour of the Rock Church, as well as biographies of the artists. LPCM and Dolby 5.1 sound tracks are available. Subtitles exist in four languages, English and original Finnish included. The image is not high def and is a bit blurry but at least it is 16:9 and good enough (the documentary actually has much better image definition). Running time for the opera itself is 1h 58'.

The cast includes tenor Lassi Virtanen (Satan), baritone Esa Ruuttunen (Martin Luther, the singer is a pastor himself - the part was written for him - by the way, the demanding Satan part was also especially written for Lassi Virtanen), mezzo Eeva-Liisa Saarinen (Katharina von Bora), soprano Merja Wirkkala (Ave), and tenor Aki Alamikkotervo.

Kari Tikka conducts the New Young Chamber Orchestra and the Viva Vox Chorus. Jussi Tapola directs, and is also the co-librettist, together with Kari Tikka. Anna Kontek is stage and costume designer.

The libretto deals with the life and times of Martin Luther, of course. The best known aria is the Grace Song. Staging is period-appropriate (with costumes based on historical drawings of the clothing in Luther's time, around 1510 in Wittenberg as the opera starts).

There is no overture. The opera opens with a chorus number, quite beautiful, with melodic vocal writing and strong, rhythmic percussion.

This is followed by a frenetic quartet with Luther, Satan, and two priests.

Dialogues in the form of recitative follow. The music appears to be minimalistic, with endless repetition of the percussion figures.

The whole is very theatrical, with dramatic power, and a sort of hypnotic beauty. I very much like these first ten minutes. Everything works well in this production so far, with good stage direction (the actors/singers move around with fluidity in spite of the large number of people on the small stage). Singing is interesting, acting is good.

My only concern at this point is whether the minimalistic music will keep my interest over almost two hours - but so far, so good, a very thrilling opening scene, and the rather varied vocal writing may keep the interest when it is threatened by the repetitive orchestration.

The second scene starts with melodic, calm and soothing psalms - the public sings along.

Luther prays in song - this is a very good performance from Ruuttunen, a gifted singer/actor, who interprets here a beautiful baritone aria. By now it's becoming clearer and clearer to me that I'm watching a high quality work. I'm definitely enjoying it.

The scene has Luther confronting characters that represent Death, Sin, Hell, and Law. Again, it's an excellent scene.

Scene 3 opens as well with psalms. Action moves to Leipzig in 1519. Satan announces a theological debate at a university, with various European thinkers, and the respondent is Luther - it's the historical debate between Luther and Johan Meier von Eck in which Luther affirmed that the Pope and church councils were not infallible. Luther is threatened with excommunication. Very dramatic scene with good pace.

Scene 4 is about Luther having to appear before the Diet of Worms in 1521, when he is asked to recant his 95 Theses, refuses, and is banned and outlawed. The scene contains spoken dialogue and functions well as a stage play. Diatonic music is then heard from the orchestra. It all becomes very melodious.

There is a growing problem for me. This is rather historically accurate, and I'm starting to feel bored. Religious history is not my forte or my cup of tea. This succession of real events in the life of Martin Luther may appeal better to those who are into this sort of thing, but like I had anticipated, now that the novelty is gone, these scenes with always the same structure - psalms, some event in which Luther sings beautifully and his opponents bash him, there is some rhythmic percussion, everything gets chaotic, then there is a melodious resolution. And so on and so forth. I'm at 52 minutes, not even half yet, and I'm wondering where this is going. My initial enthusiasm is dampening.

The fifth scene introduces his future wife Katharina. Lighting on the minimalistic stage is very beautiful, taking advantage of the stone walls.

He returns to Wittenberg for scene seven. Same pattern. By now I'm definitely bored.

I'll stop reporting on these scenes one by one, will put down the computer, and see if I enjoy this more if I just let the flow of the opera pass by, without bothering myself with the historical events.


I'm back for a few more comments. I'm getting the problem with this opera. Each individual scene is good in itself (even very good). The production is fine (staging, singing). But each scene is too much like the next. While during the first three times you see them the work seems to be of the highest quality, the endless repetition of the same pattern actually makes it quite boring.

At 1'18" of more of the same, I'm about to quit.

I guess I'll have to give a mixed verdict: recommended for those who love the history of religion. Not recommended for everybody else (not the fault of this fine production, but rather, that of the work itself).

Oh well, when I was about to quit I got to the Nativity scene, and this one is indeed *very* beautiful... and quite different from the others. OK, there's still hope. I'm sticking around.

Glad that I did. The Grace Song is certainly a fine one.

The next scene, though, recovers the boring pattern.

At the end, the staging turns modern, with modern clothing, and the libretto deals with the aftermath and Luther's legacy in modern times. Clever. It's by escaping the historical straitjacket that it gets to be more interesting. Good ending.

All right, my conclusion is: this is a work that is both beautiful/interesting and boring. I guess overall the redeeming qualities predominate.

OK, recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 12th, 2011, 12:47 AM
Rautavaara: Rasputin on DVD

This 2005 Ondine release contains another excellent Finnish opera by composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, who also wrote the libretto. Mikko Franck conducts the Orchestra of the National Finnish Opera, in a live 2003 recording. Phenomenal bass Matti Salminen sings the title role. Other singers include baritone Jorma Hynninen as Tsar Nicolai III, mezzo-soprano Lili Paasikivi as the Tsarina, and tenor Jyrki Anttila and baritone Gabriel Suovanen as the conspirators Felix Yussupov and Dmitri Pavlovich.

Technically speaking the 16:9 image (not 1.33:1 as Amazon.com would make you believe) is of low, grainy quality, and the sound track is not particularly clear (I only listened to the stereo track, but there's also Dolby 5.1). Optional subtitles are provided in several languages. There are no bonus features. Running time is 150 minutes.

Matti Salminen is made for the role and does a spectacular job which in itself more than justifies the purchase (his long first area is goose-bumping). Lili Paasikivi's singing is great too. Acting is convincing across the board. One only needs to watch the superlative second scene with the impressive religious procession to realize that we are facing greatness. This is one of the most effective scenes in recent memory, both from the theatrical and musical aspects.

The staging is very tasteful with beautiful, visually striking scenarios. Period costumes and props are very appropriate, but not without some anachronisms (such as modern hand guns - oh wait, maybe these gun models already existed at the time of his assassination). The final scene is particularly beautiful.

The score is wonderful. Rautavaara's music very successfully comments upon the dramatic aspects of the story.

This is a very good opera, well performed by a strong cast with good stage directing and set design. Highly recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 12th, 2011, 12:48 AM

This is one of the best opera films ever produced.
It is simply stunning. Not for the faint of heart, obviously. It is quite shocking, extremely crude and realistic (down to pieces of brain on the floor after Leon Klinghoffer is shot dead). But it is an extraordinary tour de force by an extremely talented group of singers and actors, with spectacular film direction, and the opera itself is incredibly beautiful - cuts or not, I think the opera still shines through.

It couldn't be more highly recommended. This is one of the very best operatic DVDs one can have. On the other hand, it is very uncomfortable to watch and very depressing.

Now I need a couple of Rossini comedies (I do have three that I haven't seen, and that's exactly what I'll be watching next, since after The Death of Klinghoffer, one does need something light as treatment for the depressive feelings it provokes).

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 12th, 2011, 12:51 AM
Rautavaara: The Gift of the Magi on DVD
1997(FI) - Petri Sakari - Tapiola Sinfonietta / Vaerajapelto Choir


Finnish contemporary composer Einojuhani Rautavvara set to music O. Henry's famous Christmas tale of two spouses who make sacrifices in order to buy each other a splendid gift.

This is a filmed version of this chamber opera, with spoken dialogue and sung arias. It's made for TV (Finland's national broadcasting company YLE), and filmed on location in a present-time Finnish village, to good realistic effect, although there are some dreadful special effects when they frame the image into a picture frame.

Jaako Kortekangas (tenor) sings Joel the husband; Pia Freund (soprano) sings Minna the wife, and secondary roles are sung by Anna-Lisa Jakobsson (mezzo, the easy neighborhood girl), Lassi Virtanen (tenor, the wigmaker), and Martii Wallen (bass, the cruel landlord). All of these artists sing and act very well.

Running time is just 45 minutes. This Kultur release is bare-bones, with no extras (apparently the European release does contain a 45-minute documentary, but the American one doesn't), and with obligatory English subtitles. The 1.33:1 image is excellent in color and definition, and the stereo sound track is equally good with good balance and fullness.

Rautavaara's vocal music is very melodious while his atonal orchestration is more fractured, which makes for a very interesting and pleasant contrast. I had already liked his music in his other opera that I know (Rasputin), and this one is even more melodious. Some criticize it for being empty, without substance or development. Still, purely as a fan (I'm no music scholar), it agrees with my ears and I find it beautiful enough.

He is a Christian composer who often focuses on religious themes. This doesn't stop this TV production from showing a few very sensual shots of the beautiful Ms. Freund showering (although she is fully covered with a towel). Not that *I* would dislike such a scene, but it does seem a bit superfluous and divorced from the general tone of this opera. Anyway, it's just a brief moment, let's not nitpick.

This is a pleasant little work, nothing extraordinary. You know, the kind of thing that can keep your attention if you watch it on TV for a few minutes (it helps that it is not long). I don't think it justifies the purchase, though.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 12th, 2011, 12:52 AM
Peter Schickele (a.k.a. P.D.Q. Bach): The Abduction of Figaro on DVD
OK, folks, how do we classify this one? I guess I'll have to say modern opera because it premiered in 1984, but it is a parody so its musical language is not really that of modern opera, but rather deliberately emulates earlier styles with lots of quotations.

Anyway, this satire is "classified" by its composer as "A simply grand opera in three acts featuring stellar principals, chorus, corpse(sic) de ballet, the whole enchilada..."http://www.talkclassical.com/images/smilies/lol.gif


This April 1984 live recording is from the Minnesota Opera featuring its orchestra under the direction of the composer himself. It's been released by VAI in bare-bones packaging (region zero, stereo track - thin but fairly good, 4:3 image - grainy, no subtitles, 144 minutes running time, bonus material with 1972 TV interview with professor Schickele).

Cast (as billed):

LeRoy Lehr, bass - Al Donfonso, Pasha Shaboom, Papa Geno
Dana Krueger, mezzo - Susana Susannadanna, Mama Geno
Bruce Edwin Ford, tenor - Pecadillo
Marilyn Brustadt, soprano - Donna Donna
Lisbeth Lloyd, soprano - Blondie
Michael Burt, bass-baritone - Donald Giovanni
Jack Walsh, almost-a-baritone - Schlepporello
Will Roy, basso - Captain Kadd
John Ferrante, bargain countertenor - Opec
Arthur Kaemmer - Figaro

I was a bit skeptical but I must confess that this *is* wickedly funny.
I've barely watched 20 minutes of it and I've laughed out loud several times already.
The madcap plot combines Le Nozze di Figaro with Abduction from the Serail, Magic Flute and Don Giovanni, and the arias quote music from these and other operas, as well as pop songs and musicals. There is one surprise after the other and much fun is made of operatic devices such as the chorus, and of all sorts of stock characters. The actors/singers are quite funny and do well with both moments when they sing correctly (no fireworks, there's an amateurish feel), and when they sing in a satirical, purposely over-the-top way.

I wonder if I'll remain interested for the whole of the long running time, though. But so far so good. I'll be back for more comments later.

OK, one-hour mark. Like I feared, I'm laughing less and less, this thing is overstaying its welcome. Professor Schickele's other satirical works apparently are much shorter. I think he took a big risk when he decided to write a full-length satirical opera with 144-minute duration.

OK, the ballet in Act II - "Dance of the Seven Pails" - is quite funny. Pasha Shaboom has delivered some really funny lines, and I'm laughing out loud again.

At 1:44, the funniest moment so far: the soprano gets mad, yells "OK, now I won't even sing my aria!" and storms out. Donald Giovanni is puzzled, looks at the maestro who then says, "OK, let's skip ahead to..." and names the next aria which then The Donald sings. Pretty hilarious.http://www.talkclassical.com/images/smilies/lol.gif

This is followed by another funny ballet that mixes Swann Lake with a Carmen Miranda-style extravaganza. OK, folks, this *is* an enjoyable work. The ballerinas kiss-kiss and high-five each other, fall like dominoes when a dancer bumps on one of them, etc., you get the picture, it's slapstick classical ballet.

Papa Geno and Mama Geno are pretty funny too, a mix of Mozart with red neck-style country music complete with lovely pigs.

LOL, now there are breat-plated Valkyries, and the Finale gets pretty crazy (there is some temporal confusion, hinted at when the narrator had said that "we'll present Act III, immediately followed by Act II" and they mix up all the finales - fitting for a composer who according to Professor Schickele was born in 1807 and died in 1742 (yes, that's right).

Well folks, the finale is pure genius, when the singers stop everything and start to argue with the opera manager due to a missing prop, the soprano is unhappy because the baritone got one more aria than she did, and the supposedly mute servant insists that he wants to sing an aria too (and does it with great comical effect).

Then they end it all by the narrator mentioning the fate of all characters: for example, Donald Giovanni "dies of unnatural causes" and Figaro "ends up in Paris where he founds a newspaper."http://www.talkclassical.com/images/smilies/lol.gif

During the credits, we hear - "Professor Schickele appears as a courtesy of his mother, Mrs. Schickele."http://www.talkclassical.com/images/smilies/lol.gif

Verdict - pretty entertaining. I hesitate to say "recommended" because it depends a lot on people's sense of humor. Let's put it like this: I liked it, but won't be watching it again.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 12th, 2011, 12:52 AM
Knussen: Where the Wild Things Are & Higglety Pigglety Pop! on DVD

1984(STU) - Oliver Knussen - London Sinfonietta (Glyndebourne)

Where the Wild Things Are (39')

Composed and conducted by OLIVER KNUSSEN
Libretto and Designs by MAURICE SENDAK
Max: Karen Beardsley
Mama: Mary King
Wild Things
Tzippy: Mary King
Moishe: Hugh Hetherington
Bruno: Jeremy Munro
Emile: Stephen Rhys-Williams
Bernard: Andrew Gallacher
Goat: Hugh Hetherington

Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must be More to Life (1 hour)

Composed and conducted by OLIVER KNUSSEN
Libretto and Designs by MAURICE SENDAK
Jennie, a Sealyham Terrier: Cynthia Buchan
The Potted Plant / Baby / Mother Goose: Deborah Rees
Pig In Sandwich Board / Low Voice of Ash Tree: Andrew Gallacher
Cat Milkman / High Voice of Ash Tree: Neil Jenkins
Rhoda, A Parlourmaid / Voice of Baby's Mother: Rosemary Hardy
Lion: Stephen Richardson

Running time 1h39'
Kultur Release; co-production BBC and Glyndebourne Festival Opera, using Glyndebourne staging scenarios but with singers voices' mixed in studio
LPCM stereo, sung in English with optional English subtitles, sound is decent, with good fullness and balance
Picture format 1:33:1 - old-fashioned image with poor definition by today's standards, but decent enough
No extras
Region code 1

This is enchanting and outstanding, folks. I wonder how we seem to have forgotten to recommend this DVD when someone asks about opera for kids. Adults will like these two short operas as well, with the very interesting late 20th century music and very inventive stagings that reproduce perfectly the beloved picture books.

Wild Things part:

Make sure you don't miss the Boris Godunov quotation (bell motif from the Coronation scene) during Max's own coronation dance. There is a tribute to Debussy as well (La boîte à joujoux) but since I don't know the original I couldn't identify it.

I think the score is just perfect for this kind of dream-like fantasy. Singing is so-so.

Higlety Piggetly part:

Better singing (Cynthia Buchan as the dog Jennie is more impressive than Karen Beardley as the boy Max in the previous opera). The dog costume is very convincing. I like better the more lively score for Wild Things, while here the vocal writing seems more varied and exciting. It's a more complex libretto as well.


This is a very charming production. It's incredible how talented the folks at Glyndebourne are; most of what comes from them is terrific.

Highly recommended!

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 12th, 2011, 12:53 AM
Turnage: Anna Nicole on DVD and Blu-ray


I'll be reviewing this from the BBC broadcast. I have a home-made copy recorded from TV by a friend and sent to me as a gift - thank you, you know who you are - therefore I won't be commenting on the technical aspects of the DVD or the blu-ray (such as image quality, sound quality) - I suppose they're good, since it's OpusArte, they never failed to deliver high quality technical aspects.

Anna Nicole, contemporary opera in two acts, Music by Mark Anthony Turnage, libretto by Richard Thomas, sung in English
2011 - Orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by Antonio Pappano, supplemented with a drummer, a bass guitarist, and a guitarist.
Eva-Maria Westbroek has the title role
Additional singers include Alan Oke (J. Howard Marshall II), Gerald Finley (Stern), Susan Bickley (Virgie), Lore Lixenberg (Shelley), Jeremy White (Daddy Hogan), and others
Running time 120 minutes
Director Richard Jones
Sets by Miriam Buether
Costumes by Nicky Gillibrand
2011 release by Opus Arte on DVD and blu-ray, optional subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish; picture format 16:9, sound tracks DTS 5.1, LPCM 2.0, Bonuses include a 9-minute documentary "Production Insights" and a cast gallery.

Sets and costumes are appropriate to the topic - it's been described as Eurotrash display of American trash, and yes, it is, but how would anybody stage this any differently? So, we get extensive doses of neon lights, seedy environments, slutty women with huge fake boobs (I mean, really fake, the plastic kind, not the surgical/silicone kind), truck drivers with huge bellies, all very tacky and colorful. Female chorus members are dressed like TV news anchors, and male chorus members like TV field journalists. Sets change rapidly to convey other environments (like the plastic surgeon waiting room in the breast augmentation clinic, full of booby nurses and vain clients). It's all done well and in inventive ways. Lighting is very good too, rapidly impacting on different scenes the sort of Vegas/Hollywood tacky glamour just by projecting different colors on the stage. I like the idea of the ballerinas with a movie camera for head. the huge mattress in act II is another clever idea.

Pappano and the orchestra of the ROH are impeccable as usual. The score has plenty of jazz/pop influences, thus the addition of drums, bass guitar, and guitar.

The strike of genius of this production is the casting of Eva-Maria Westbroek. She is of course the perfect Anna Nicole, both in looks and in acting ability. The whole thing is the Eva-Maria show. Her singing is competent as usual but this is a very easy score for her; there are virtually no demands on her voice since the tessitura rarely goes much above that of the spoken voice and regular pop singing. The easy vocal writing makes the singing sort of take a background role to the theatrical aspects.

OK, it is an opera, but it does have a musical feel. To tell you all the truth, I find it a bit boring. I know I'm going against the wild acclaim this opera and this production have received, but I don't think the score and the vocal writing are that inventive, and the constant appeal to the white trash aspects of the characters' life and the traps of the shallow celebrity culture end up seeming like a running joke that loses its impact as the work goes on. The constant use of F words in the libretto - probably for shock value - also becomes old pretty fast.

At one point, the spectator thinks, OK, she's a white trash s!ut, OK, her rise to fame is a sad product of our idiotic American culture, OK, she's a silly girl who got trapped into the easy pleasures of a life of luxury thanks to her exuberant looks and everybody around her used her, and her excesses tragically caught up with her. OK, the whole thing is sad... OK, we get it. And.... so?

Anna Nicole's real life and death have made all these points already. Do we really need an opera to make them as well?

Is this really entertaining? Do we really need to be reminded of all this crap for two hours? Or if we do, then I'd rather get someone like Britten to tell me the story, because Turnage's approach in my humble opinion doesn't really make the cut. Pappano says "in this kind of contemporary opera we can't ignore the music of our time so it's gotta have these jazz and pop elements." Really? I'm not sure if I agree with this. Maybe then this story would have been more suitable for a musical. But I don't think there is anything obligatory about inserting contemporary pop music into a contemporary opera. There are plenty that don't do this. Or when they do, like Gershwin, it's more expertly done. I guess what I'm saying is that Turnage is no Britten, and no Gershwin. Here, I can't really shake off the musical feel, and it bores me, like most musicals bore me.

Maybe I'll change my mind (I'm known for it) since I'm typing this in-between acts and I haven't finished watching it yet.

During the second act, here is what I'm thinking: I like the staging more than I like the opera. It's a clever staging. I like Eva-Maria more than I like the opera. She is fabulous. I think what we need here is another composer and another librettist. Maybe Turnage and Thomas fans will be mad at me and say that I don't know what I'm saying and they are great, etc. It could be the case, but then I'll have to add that they're not my cup of tea.

There are redeeming qualities. I like the scene of her confrontation with her late husband's family. The instrumental intermezzo again doesn't excite me. It sounds a lot like ominous movie music. Maybe it's because I've just watched again Peter Grimes this morning, and Britten's spectacular intermezzi make this one pale so much by comparison!

The scene where she tries to get the bag of drugs is good too. Overall act II is looking more promising than act I (likely because now we're getting to the more dramatic aspects of the story). The Larry King scene is good too.

By now it's pretty clear that Act II is way better than act I, also in part because the story does advance, it's not just the endless running joke of act I about how trashy this entire thing is.

Again, getting close to the end now, there were other effective scenes, and the scene of her death is very good. They made poor Eva-Maria look so fat...

So, my verdict.

Eva-Maria, Pappano, orchestra all very good. Staging very clever. Libretto so-so. Music, kind of weak for me (maybe I just don't get it).

It's an interesting production of an opera that I don't feel compelled to watch/listen to again.

I'd say recommended for one viewing, just for the sake of Eva-Maria and the staging.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 12th, 2011, 12:59 AM
Osvaldo Golijov: Ainadamar on CD
Osvaldo Golijov is a contemporary composer, still alive, born in 1960, an Argentinian of Jewish ancestry.

His opera Ainadamar (Arabic for Fountain of Tears) is a short work (about one hour) sung in Spanish, and it premiered in first version at the Tanglewood Festival of 2003. The revised version saw the light of day at the Santa Fe Opera, on July 30, 2005, and this is the performance that was recorded on the CD that I'm reviewing today.

It's a pity that we don't have a DVD version because the production photos are interesting. Stage direction was by Peter Sellars so I guess it was a pleasant night in Santa Fe.

This Deutsche Grammophon release features conductor Robert Spano at the helm of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, with the women of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus.

Outstanding singer (one of my favorites, voice-wise) Dawn Upshaw gets the leading role of Margarita Xirgu, a real-life close collaborator of Federíco Garcia Lorca's who survived him and exiled herself to South America after he was killed by the Fascist Falangist forces in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. She was a Catalan tragedian who carried on with the master's plays in Latin America so that his voice wouldn't be silenced by Franco, in spite of his death.

The opera is about Garcia Lorca's death, executed by Fascist soldiers next to the ancient fountain Anadamar - a real geographic location and a legacy of Spain's Moorish past.

We encounter Xirgu exiled in Uruguay and dreaming of the poet, who appears in the opera, sung competently by mezzo Kelley O'Connor.

In this revised and more tightly theatrical version, Golijov replaced the scenes in which Xirgu talked to her younger self in the first version, and made her talk to a disciple, Nuria, sung here by Jessica Rivera.

The cast is completed by Jesús Montova as Ruiz Alonso (Lorca's arresting officer), Eduardo Chama as José Tripaldi (guard), Sean Mayer as Maestro (a teacher) and Robb Asklof as Torero (a bullfighter). Anne-Carolyn Bird and Sindhu Chandrasekaran provide the voices of the fountain.

OK, folks, this is an extremely beautiful opera, nicely packaged with a good essay, synopsis, and full libretto (good recording too, except for the transition between tracks # 13 and 14, see below). Granted that you must like Spanish music otherwise you'll be bored, because that's most of what you'll hear. You get Flamenco-style vocal melismas (Garcia Lorca was so fond of them... and so am I), acoustic guitar passages, Spanish-style percussion and folk music, etc. But in spite of the stylistic constraints, the score is varied and inventive, and provides pretty much a roller-coaster of samples of Spanish music.

Also, this gotta be one of the most melodious contemporary operas I've ever heard. The vocal music is rather sublime and dreamy. My only regret is that the piece is so short, I wanted more of the same. On the other hand, Spanish music is often of the lamentation sort, and those who are less familiar with it or less fond of it (not my case) may be turned off by 60 minutes of endless lamentations about Garcia Lorca's death, so the shortness may be appreciated by some listeners.

Me, I found this opera quite extraordinary. I can see it paired with another dreamy short work like Stravinsky's Le Rossignol for a very enjoyable evening.

In the meantime (and hoping that other opera houses will pick this up) do get this CD if you like Spanish music. I highly recommend it.


Oh, a word of warning. After beautiful track #13 which is incidental music (written by Golijov for another work, not originally part of Ainadamar) in very low volume, track #14 starts with sounds reproducing shots fired at Garcia Lorca. One tends to turn up the volume to better hear track # 13, and then when the very loud track # 14 comes up, oooohhh, my poor ears got hurt and DG's sound engineers are now responsible for some future hearing loss due to acoustic trauma. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT crank up the volume during track 13 because the loud sounds of track 14 come up rather unexpectedly. This CD should come with a mandatory warning: "According to the Surgeon General, this recording is dangerous to your hearing health."

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 12th, 2011, 01:00 AM
Salvatore Sciarrino: Luci mie traditrici on CD

Luci mie traditrice, Opera in due atti, premiered in 1998, sung in Italian (short prologue sung in French)
Music by Salvatore Sciarrino (1947- )
Libretto by Salvatore Sciarrino, after Il Tradimento per L'Onore, by Giacinto Andrea Cicognini, 1664, and an eulogy by Claude Le Jeune, 1608

Studio recording, done in Vienna, November 14 and 15, 2000
Conductor: Beat Furrer
Orchestra: Klangforum Wien

Annette Stricker, soprano - La Malaspina (The Countess)
Otto Katzamaier, bass-baritone - Il Malaspina (The Count)
Kai Wessel, countertenor - L'Ospite (guest)
Simon Jaunin, baritone - Servo (servant)

Kairos Music release, 2001, in one CD, DDD, running time 68:41
Libretto included, in original Italian (small part in French), and translations into French, English, and German + production pictures, essay, synopsis, a message from the composer, biography of the artists with their pictures, history of the orchestra, fragments of correspondence and witness account between the real-life characters


Salvatore Sciarrino is a contemporary composer of avant-garde opera and other musical genres, who lives in his native Italy in the Citta di Castella in Perugia, and teaches composition at the Florence conservatory. He is a prestigious composer who has held several faculty appointments in Palermo and Milan, and has received several prizes, with a catalog of more than 130 pieces (one of the most extensive body of works among contemporary composers). According to him, in addition to having been a disciple of Franco Evangelisti's, Stockhausen was a major influence on his music.

This is one of many of his avant-garde operas, played here by an ensemble of soloists specialized in contemporary music.

Sciarrino's music is very unique, especially his vocal writing, often using long extensions of the vowels and short bursts of the other syllables, completely altering the dynamics of the words, with added complex melismas. These techniques are not only intriguing, but also convey a very Italianate melodic sense. The orchestration and instrumental parts are vanishing and phantasmagorical, and evoke blowing winds, breathing, neighing horses, sounds of nature (birds, insects), and percussion. Silence occurs often, which then goes from this state of zero sounds to a multitude of microscopic sounds and whispers and soft noises that seem to reproduce the sonorous real-life universe that surrounds the characters.

The result in my opinion is *extremely* powerful. It starts with the exquisite, sensitive, and poetic libretto, which makes use of very short phrases, at times one-word sentences that parade in rapid succession, but still manage to perfectly convey the strong feelings that the characters of this opera are going through. Then, the music impacts on the work a very realistic sense of dread and doom, of emotional intensity and impending tragedy - affects like love, fear, jealousy, lust, horror are very well tone-painted.

The piece can be read and heard like a growing nightmare. It makes me think of Verdi's Otello, in its claustrophobic and inexorable progression to the shocking last scene. Of course, the musical structure of these two works couldn't be more different, but the atmosphere is quite similar. The musical style on the other hand reminded me of another piece I liked a lot recently, Itinerário do Sal by Portuguese contemporary composer Miguel Azguimes. While Azguime's opera is even more adventurous and makes abundant use of electronic music, these two pieces do share this ability to work with the sounds of a word and manipulate it to achieve expressive power.

Cicognini's text on which the composer based his libretto is about a real episode in the life of Renaissance composer Don Carlo Gesualdo, son of the Prince of Naples and heir to his father's court, who brutally murdered his wife Maria d'Avalos in 16th century Naples when he discovered that she had taken a lover, the Duke of Andria, Don Fabrizio Carafa. Don Carlo married his young and pretty cousin Maria in an arranged political marriage, and after fathering a son with her to secure to himself an heir, he turned to hunting and music and completely neglected his wife. Bored, she let herself be seduced by the Duke who was a guest in her home. Don Carlo learned about it from his uncle (not before the uncle also tried to seduce Maria and was rejected), staged a fake hunting trip, came back with three or four thugs, broke into his wife's quarters and surprised the two lovers in bed. The thugs brutally murdered the Duke under Maria's eyes using multiple weapons, and after he was reduced to a bloody pulp Don Carlo stabbed her to death. Given his noble birth and the fact that it was a "honor killing" Don Carlo didn't suffer any legal consequence of his action, but remained to his death haunted by what he had done and still in love with his dead wife.

Yes, the stuff for opera all right!http://www.talkclassical.com/images/smilies/eek.gif

In the opera, the characters are simply called the Count and the Countess (Don Carlo and Maria in real life); instead of the uncle we get a servant who also loves the countess and out of jealousy denounces her to the cuckolded husband, and the Duke is simply called The Guest. The murder scene is toned down as opposed to what really happened - The Count brings his wife to the bedroom after the Duke has already been murdered and is laying on the bed under the bed covers; he pulls off the bed covers and shows her the dead body of her lover, then stabs her. There are no thugs and no scene with the brutal multi-weapon killing.

The libretto does not entirely convey the action. The verbal exchanges are more like snippets of raw emotions than real storytelling. One rather follows what goes on inside the minds of the characters. They talk to each other but it is the depiction of love and fear, etc., that comes through. Things are implied more than said. One needs the synopsis to follow what is going on, in the absence of visual media.

The opening scene - the prologue in French based on the eulogy mentioned above in the source material - is very poetic and sets the tone perfectly for what will happen, and is given an orchestral treatment that recurs later in modified form.

Singing by two of the three principals is truly excellent. This is extremely difficult vocal writing, requiring lots of agility, and Ms. Stricker and Mr. Katzameier do a spectacular job. Mr. Wessel on the other hand is not among the best countertenors I've heard. Mr. Jaunin has a small and simple role with no big vocal demands; basically his role calls for little more than a little declamation so it is harder to pass judgment on his voice.

Conductor and orchestra certainly perform this inventive score competently.

Those who are not familiar with or not fond of avant-garde opera may balk at this. I found it truly excellent, and highly recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 12th, 2011, 01:02 AM
Hindemith: Mathis der Maler on CD


Mathis der Maler, opera in seven tableaux, sung in German, premiered in 1938 in Zurich
Music and libretto by Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)

1977(STU) - Rafael Kubelík - Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks

2010 re-release (previously released in 1979 and 1995) by EMI Classics, ADD, in 3 CDs.

Liner notes have credits, track list with duration and characters, and a short essay in English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian. A 4th CD-ROM contains the full libretto in German, French, and English, two other essays (one by the composer himself, and a very detailed and long one about his life and works, in English and German), and a synopsis (English and German), all in PDF format.


Mathis the painter - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Albrecht von Brandenburg, the Cardinal Archbishop of Mainz, Mathis' employer - James King
Lorenz von Pommersfelden - Gerd Feldhoff
Wolfgang Capito - Manfred Schmidt
Riedinger - Peter Meven
Hans Schwalb - William Cochran
Prefect of Waldburg - Alexander Malta
Sylvester von Schaumberg - Donald Grobe
Ursula - Rose Wagemann
Regina - Urszula Koszut
Countess Helfenstein - Trudeliese Schmidt
The Count's Piper - Karl Kreile

Hindemith picked as the subject for his opera the life of Mathis Grünewald, a 16th century painter, creator of the Isenheim Altar, the Karlsruhe Crucifixion, and the Stuppach Madonna.

Hindemith defines his subject as a doubting and searching soul. He struggled with the changing environment of art in the Renaissance, having decided to carry on with traditional art in spite of the innovation going on around him. Then he became entangled in the powerful machinery of State and Church, resisted their pressure, and continued to give expression to medieval religious feelings. After turning to Lutheran Reformation, he abandoned his art, and died of old age as a millwright. Hindemith hints at Mathis' end as either that of someone beaten down by despair, or that of a man who achieved a more serene balance.

To express these conflicting views, Hindemith uses in his opera hints of Gregorian chants, Catholic, and Reformation hymns.

Hindemith himself was a controversial composer. He seemed to be ambivalent regarding the Nazi regime, and after the war, he was criticized by younger composers for being the number 1 composer in Germany when they thought that he hadn't earned this position by being progressive and avant-garde like they'd have preferred. In this sense, Hindemith's struggles match those of Mathis.

He continued to favor tonal music in spite of all the developments going on around him, and was said to be outdated. Hindemith was particularly against Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique. Then he grew increasingly alarmed with the demands of reality in the Musical Youth Movement of Fritz Jöde and with Bertold Brecht's social commitment. Hindemith aimed to free himself of such contacts (again, analogous to Mathis' radical withdrawal that got him away from even artistic expression itself).

Hindemith composed three operas that had to do with the life of artists, all three not from the standpoint of their individual fates, but rather from comparing their experiences with his own. These are Cardillac, Mathis der Maler, and Die Harmonie der Welt. Hindemith's attempt to free himself from external influences made him write his own libretti for two of these operas, and rewrite Cardillac.

The point of Mathis der Maler (as well as those of the other two operas) is to present an artist that is confronted with demands on him by society, engages in attempts to implement real change and social justice, just to find out that such engagements are pointless and meaningless.

The opera is set to the time of the Peasants' War of 1525. The painter is won over to the peasants' side in their demand for justice, but questions whether it is still appropriate to create art, since art can not help the miserable. He renounces the world for which he produced decoration, and joins the fight for justice. Soon, he gets disillusioned. He learns that the apparent moral and legitimate rebellion is just a quest for revenge, and as soon as the peasants win, they engage in the same oppressive practices that they once rebelled against. Mathis then tries to turn to artistically autonomous, disinterested work. His fictive world assimilates and absorbs the real world. The new truth of his art becomes a denial of existing reality and an inner emigration.

In the opera, Regina, Schwalb's daughter and Mathis' traveling companion, dies at the end. With her youth gone, all vitality and hope vanish from the painter's life. The rest of his life is filled with sadness and memories, showing that this retreat into the inner self doesn't bring happiness either.

Hindemith relies on the use of old melodies and old compositional forms as an expression of renunciation of progressiveness, since for him, relying on the development of society for the future of artistic expression is hopeless.


If you want a summary of the opera, read this excellent post by Superhorn:

Hindemith's Mathis Der Maler - The Complete Opera (http://www.talkclassical.com/14016-hindemiths-mathis-der-maler.html#post179622)


The overture has the sort of character of a symphonic piece. It seems a bit odd for an opera overture especially given that this is a somber opera, since it is sprawling and cheerful. I suppose it matches the first scene in which the painter is bucolically painting in his monastery, supposedly religious themes - it is named Concert of Angels.

Mr. Fischer-Dieskau, I can tell by the beautiful first scene of the first tableau, will be a pleasure to hear, with impeccable technique and nice timbre of voice. Choir music follows, alternating with Mathis singing again, and it is all very well done.

Oh boy, I'm in for a treat!

Oops, Regina is not well sung at all by Urszula Koszut in the second scene. I hope she warms up. It may not improve, though. Her voice is unpleasant and weak.

William Cochran as Schwalb on the other hand is great.

Scenes 3 and 4 are full of tension, with energetic orchestration. This opera has good pace and the libretto is of good quality. I like it so far. Tableau one is over.

Tableau two in Mainz starts again with good male singing, with the singers in the roles of Pommersfelden and Capito doing well.

Several choruses follow (Lutherans and Papists confronting each other, students, wives) - it's all very dynamic and enticing, with a style that seems to be proprietary (these are not Verdian or Wagnerian choruses).

The other main character, Cardinal Albrecht, is coming up, and James King sings him very well.

The second female, Ursula, is about to make her entrance, and this should complete my views of the singers.

OK, better than her peer, but not that good either. It looks like the males are singing better than the females in this recording.

Another very impressive, eventful, and strong scene 5 of tableau 2, male only, ends the first CD.

I like it a lot, but it's late and I'm tired. I'll continue tomorrow with CDs 2 and 3.


I have finished CD 2. There is nothing else to add about the singing. It remains as I said before - the men do well, the women don't, except for the Countess (Trudeliese Schmidt) who has a small role but doesn't do anything wrong.

After CD 2 (and granted that I haven't reached CD 3 yet which contains one of the most interesting scenes with all the apparitions) - this opera both grew in my appreciation, and shrank in it.

The libretto is very good, with enormous theatrical potential. It is deep and addresses important aspects of the human condition, especially regarding power and politics. The orchestration is powerful.

But what is not so good is the vocal writing. It is for the most part unimpressive. So this opera is likely to earn my "recommended" verdict but not my "highly recommended," unless CD 3 blows me away. We'll see. I'll have to stop again, and I don't know when I'll be able to resume, maybe tomorrow.


CD3 contains tableaux six and seven, the best ones in the opera. Tableaux six is very theatrical, with enormous stage potential, depicting The Temptation of Saint Antony, and then St. Paul and St. Antony as seen on the Isenheim Altar depicted above (left panel of the top picture). The vocal music in tableaux seven scene one when Regina is dying is very beautiful, and so is the orchestral interlude (entombment). Now I'm getting to the last 9 minutes.

While I listen to them (again, very beautiful) I'm thinking of the entire opera and my verdict. It has many moments of extreme beauty, the instrumental part is very good, and it is very theatrical.

On the other hand most of the vocal writing is not that exciting, and there are some longueurs - the opera is a bit monothematic, with the endless doubts and philosophical meditations and dialogues on the meaning of life and sense of one's worth, direction of one's work, and religious themes. At one point this all gets to be a bit tiresome when there is too much talk and the flow and pace get slowed down. Some judicious cuts would have improved this work. It is interesting to notice that the present version I'm reviewing is basically the only entirely complete one; others have suffered cuts. Maybe they worked. Cardillac with a running time a little under 2 hours and 10 minutes is a lot more compact.

These shortcomings stop me from saying "highly recommended." I'd rather say that it is a solid "recommended."

December 13th, 2011, 09:44 PM
What is modern opera?. Opera means total theater: this is the way to write opera today, to join all the means available to present the drama. That is: architecture, sculpture, painting, spoken theater, ballet, cinema, microphones, television, electronic music, circus, new techniques... everything.

Bernd Alois Zimmermann, 1952.

Die Soldaten was a commission from the Opera of Cologne to Zimmermann. Based on a piece by writer Jakob Michael Lenz, it was a colossal effort, deemed unplayable when completed, what forced Zimmermann to review the opera before its premiere, in 1965.

The plot is about the degradation of a woman, Marie, at the hands of several soldiers that appear in her life. It's a sinister fall from an innocent woman soon to be married to her fiancee, Stolzius, to become a lover of a soldier, then a prostitute and, finally, a beggar that her own father, Mr. Wesener, can't even recognize.

Musically is close to Berg's Wozzeck. Classical forms for each of the different numbers, references to Bach, jazz, cabaret music, the "sound collage" so dear to Zimmermann,... The drama is a little bit more complicated, demanding to present several actions on stage at the same time.


Bernhard Kontarsky (1989)

Stuttgart Opera Choir and Orchestra

Wesener - Mark Munkittrick
Marie - Nancy Shade
Charlotte - Milagro Vargas
Weseners alte Mutter - Grace Hoffmann
Stolzius - Michael Ebbecke
Stolzius' Mutter - Elsie Maurer
Obrist Graf von Spannheim - Alois Treml
Desportes - William Cochran
Pirzel - Guy Renard
Eisenhardt - Karl-Friedrich Dürr
Haudy - Klaus Hirte
Mary - Raymond Wolansky
Gräfin de la Roche - Ursula Koszut
Der junge Graf - Jerrold van der Schaaf

If we read Zimmermann's words above, it's clear DVD is the right format for his opera. And what a DVD!. This is really a very good one.

The stage director, Harry Kupfer, completes a wonderful tour de force. The conductor, Bernhard Kontarsky, was involved in the premiere of the opera, and twenty years later it showed.

In Die Soldaten, the most important thing for the singers is team work. Here they give this to us, led by Nancy Shade as Marie, communicating a tender character, charming, but at the same time distressing.

Overall: B+. Recommended for all Opera lovers.


December 14th, 2011, 08:07 PM
I loved reading about Soldaten and looking at the clips, thanks Schigolch. Harry Kupfer is a personal favorite of mine.

December 25th, 2011, 09:27 PM

Alice in Wonderland is one of the most popular subjects at the time of writing a new opera.


Korean composer Unsuk Chin was a disciple of György Ligeti, in Hamburg.

Her Alice was premiered back in 2007, at the Bayerische Staatsoper, and runs for about 2 hours.

The music is quite eclectic, with a wide range of sounds... perhaps too wide, bordering on the impersonal. The vocal writing is not one of the strenghts of the piece.

However, the libretto is lively, Achim Freyer¡'s production carefully planned, and Nagano is conducting very well, as usual. We have to recognize also the effort of Sally Matthews in the role of Alice. The video direction is quite poor, though.

Overall: C, recommended for lovers of avant-garde opera only


December 25th, 2011, 09:52 PM
Anyone listened to Harrison Birtwistle's (born 1934), The Minotaur ? It looks intriguing for an opera.


December 26th, 2011, 10:41 AM
Birtwistle goes a long way back, since Punch & Judy, written in 1968, that was a funny experiment, and almost a scandal in the UK at the time. Just after this, he embarked on his most ambitious project, and one of the operas that really shaped 'modernity' in the operatic world, The Mask of Orpheus.

This Minotaur was premiered in the Covent Garden, again taking a Greek mythological subject as inspiration. But any resemblance stop there. The libretto is not really first class, and the characters are more archetypes that anything else, and not particularly well designed, either.

The music is better, and much easier to hear than former Birwistle's operas. It sounds nearly mainstream, especially in the first hour. Unfortunately, it's also a bit generic. Vocal lines are also pretty tamed, Ariadna's is almost lyrical.

All in all, it's a good experience, but probably it won't left a lasting impression in most listeners.

December 26th, 2011, 05:29 PM

Karl Amaedus Hartmann, is one of the greatest composers of symphonies in the history of music. Born in 1905, his career was stalled by Nazism, as he refused to publish or let any work from him be played during the Third Reich times.

Once the war was over, he was appointed to several important responsibilities in the musical word of the 1940s and 1950s in West Germany. However, after his death in 1963, his work was not really promoted, until the end of the 20th century.

He wrote one very good opera however, Simplicius Simplicissimus, based on von Grimmelshausen's tale on the terrible devastation of the Thirty Years War and the adventures of a rogue character, this Simplicius. I was able to watch the opera in Frankfurt, a couple of years ago, and there is a DVD recorded at Stuttgart's opera house:



It is the original version, completed by Hartmann in 1935, and premiered in 1948.

There is also a revised version, published in the 1950s:


that we can also watch in youtube:


The libretto is written in archaic German (in the Frankfurt opera, the subtitles were in modern German, for a better understanding). It's an antiwar manifesto, with a clear contrast between the harshness of the drama, and the music's formalized, stylized approach, that sometimes looks divorced from what is happening on the stage, but that really, at a deeper level, is completing it. This is, if anything, underscored by the expressionist staging, very ritualized and with some shocking scenes, though a bit unrelated to the action, as usual.

Overall: B, recommended for lovers of 20th century Opera.

December 29th, 2011, 06:52 PM

Jackie O is a chamber opera, by American composer Michael Daugherty, premiered back in the 1990s. It has been called a "pop Opera", and with reason. At least, the score is more akin to Stephen Sondheim or William Bolcom than, say, to John Adams.

However, is quick, witty and makes for good entertainment. Each character is given a non-classical music style and vocal lines are quite direct. This staging is from Bolonia, and generally good, though some references like the 9/11 attacks are, in my view, outside the real meaning of this piece, that is a pretended sublimation of pop culture.

At least this must be about the only opera in which Maria Callas is a character, instead of a singer. :)

This is the DVD's trailer:


The opera can be watched also complete in youtube, in a staging by the University of Michigan:


Overall: C, just for some fun, and just one time.

December 30th, 2011, 11:14 AM

Of course, Aribert Reimann's best known opera is Lear, written in 1978. However, since then Reimann has composed another five operas, of which the last one is this Medea, premiered in Vienna, one year ago.

It's based on the drama by 19th century Austrian writer Franz Grillparzer. In the last years it seems those classical subjects are again interesting for modern composers ("Minotaur" by Birstwistle, "Phaedra" by Henze,...).

As usual in Reimann's operas the vocal writing takes precedence. It's not by any means a classical vocal writing, though it's based in the German tradition, of opera but also of lied, but with his enhanced emotional display, reaching to paroxysm. The instrumental score is spare, austere, but not fully devoid of some attractive features.


Overall: B, recommended for lovers of avant-garde Opera, mainly.

December 30th, 2011, 04:03 PM
It's based on the drama by 19th century Austrian writer Franz Grillparzer. In the last years it seems those classical subjects are again interesting for modern composers ("Minotaur" by Birstwistle, "Phaedra" by Henze,...).

I don't know the opera, but Grillparzer's play is perhaps the greatest (and certainly my favorite) retelling of the Medea myth. Reimann has very good taste in his sources.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:33 AM
Szymanowski: King Roger on blu-ray

First, about the opera: this is very interesting material. The orchestral score is phenomenal, extremely beautiful, and sets the tone very efficiently. Just listen to the first few bars with the chorus praising the Lord, and you'll feel goosebumps spreading on your skin. We are in the presence of very powerful music. The vocal writing is less effective (mostly, of the yelling kind) but it doesn't really matter since the score is so exquisite, and it does predominate, given that this modern opera employs declamation rather than melodic singing.

Then, the libretto. Again, we're in the presence of very competent folks, the composer Szymanowski himself, and Jaroslaw Iwaskiewicz. It is very clever and impactful. We face three conflicting powers: the secular, enlightened power of King Roger - a very progressive monarch; versus established, traditional religion (Christianity); versus a libidinous prophet that preaches a new creed of a sensuous, pleasurable kind. The writing is focused, precise, fast, and highly metaphorical (such as when the king invites the shepherd/prophet to an encounter and tells him: "the password is Shepherd" and the prophet responds, "The password is Roger." Another interesting point is when the king, jealous of the power of the prophet over his wife, asks his counselor - "how can he get to women's hearts?" It reminds me of Don Carlos, in which the king laments the fact that in spite of his political powers, he is no expert in the matters of love. The king, however, also feels driven to the prophet's attractiveness, and this is cleverly shown in the staging, when the prophet shows up dressed in women's clothing. The tension between duty, faith, and libido, are very well depicted in this opera.

OK, in summary, Król Roger is a very powerful, very well composed and well written opera. Is it an astonishing masterpiece? Maybe not. But it is *very* good, no doubt about it.

Last, about the production. That's when things go downhill. This is an opera with only one female character. All the others are males. OK, so, the least we'd expect from the producers, would be that they'd take care of hiring a decent soprano.

Ms. Olga Pasichnyk in the role of Roxana, however, couldn't be any worse. You know, Ms. Pasichnyk, if you can't sing, maybe you should consider a career as a realtor. Or else, have you thought of Law School? Whatever you do, please, don't go on stage and try to sing an operatic piece. Didn't anybody tell you that your voice is supposed to project above the orchestra, and that you should show some sort of emotion in your delivery of the musical line?

Roxana is a very essential role for this thing to be successful, and Ms. Pasichnyk can't even be heard.

Mr. Scott Hendricks, on the other hand, does a decent job as King Roger. John Graham-Hall as the counselor Edrisi is a good actor, but a lousy singer. And one would expect more punch from the other essential character, the Shepherd, which is weakly played by Will Hartmann.

The orchestra: flawless. It's the best part of this blu-ray, and the very good and deep DTS-HD master 5.1 track filled my living room with spectacular sounds.

Scenarios - instead of the three different environments of the three acts, they have opted for one single minimalistic scene with stairs, with lights of different colors conveying the different moods. It was successful. It starts very beautiful, but it does fade away as the opera goes on.

Acting: rather over-the-top. I'd have preferred more restraint, more gravitas, less overdramatic stock gestures.

Staging - Good start, but with a disaster of a third and final act.


Mr. David Pountney, the director, must have thought that making all characters (for no good reason) wear blood-soaked rags in the third act and walk around while carrying disgusting rotten animal body parts would look cool and artsy. I hate to break the news to you, Mr. Pountney, but the disgusting rotten animal body parts just look disgusting, not artsy.

When will these stage directors learn??

You know, Mr. Pountney, if you want to go all Eurotrashy on us, at least show us some cool stuff. You just showed us rotten animal heads and no cool stuff. Thanks, but no, thanks.

In summary, this is a very good opera with beautiful music and a clever libretto, played by a good orchestra, but marred by ridiculous stage direction and lousy singing. I'm sure there are better versions of Król Roger out there on live staging or recordings, but in the absence of better video alternatives, this blu-ray will do because the music is very good. Maybe someone else will do this again with a better soprano, less overacting, and no rotten animal body parts.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 2nd, 2012, 02:41 AM
Busoni: Doktor Faust on Bu-ray

This is a live 2006 recording from the Opernhaus Zürich.

Musicians: Chorus and orchestra of the Zurich Opera House, the conductor is Philippe Jordan. The settings are extremely beautiful and tasteful, and so are the stunning, visually striking costumes. Stage direction is by Klaus Michael Grüber - someone to watch!, and the gorgeous set design is by Eduardo Arroyo. TV direction, also very good, is by Felix Breisach. Costumes are by Eva Dessecker. A talented team!

Doktor Faust is the excellent Thomas Hampson. Mephistopheles is Gregory Kunde, very evil looking. Many secondary characters have small singing roles, the longest of them all being the Duchess of Parma sang by Sandra Trattnigg. Other singers include Günther Groissböck as Wagner, Reinaldo Macias as the Duke of Parma, Martin Zysset as a lieutenant; the three students are sung by Andreas Winkler, Thilo Dahlmann, and Matthew Leigh, and there are five more minor roles that I won't list.

This is a very good opera, one that I approached with some jaded low expectations given the frequent treatment of this subject (by Berlioz, Gounod, Boito) - but Busoni's version seems actually excellent. It was left unfinished at his death, and completed by his pupil Phillip Jarnach in 1925 - it only premiered after Busoni's death in 1924. Subsequently more music written by Busoni himself for this opera was discovered and a new version was done in 1985, but this production is with the old Jarnach version. Busoni wrote his own libretto which is not based on Goethe but rather on Goethe's source material, including the Historia of folk tales and a puppet play by Karl Simrock. The plot differs significantly from that of the versions we're more used to, and at some point Busoni abandons even his source materials and just writes up new events and new characters (there are cameos by Biblical figures such as Salome and John the Baptist, King Solomon and the Queen of Sheeba, and Samson and Delilah in the second act. Later there is another cameo by Helen of Troy. Busoni achieves excellent dramatic punch with his libretto.

The product itself is impeccable: ArtHaus Musik all-region blu-ray with extremely sharp and beautiful image (better than in other blu-rays) and gorgeous DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track (LPCM also provided), taking full advantage of my new 7.1-capable equipment (http://operalively.com/forums/images/smilies/biggrin.gif). Optional subtitles are provided in original German and four other languages. There is a bonus feature with a 43-minute interview and back-stage scenes. Opera running time: 172 minutes (a long one). Curiously, the otherwise very good insert doesn't include a formal synopsis divided by acts and scenes - but it does provide detailed commentary about the plot. It also includes an excellent essay in various languages on the composer's works and life, and the biography of the main artists - the conductor, the stage director, and Thomas Hampson, as well as full track list that mentions the characters singing each number and duration, comme il faut.

Faust and Mephistopheles and the chorus all sing exquisitely. The orchestra does a phenomenal job (or is it the fantastic Master Audio 7.1? Regardless of the cause, I'm immersed in fabulous waves of sound - took a day-off from the job today to be able to listen to my new equipment in full volume without hurting my wife's delicate ears).

Musically the opera is very beautiful. A very pleasant surprise!

The beautiful production, excellent singing and orchestral playing continue to deliver lots of pleasure in the second act, except that the duchess of Parma is played by a singer who takes a while to warm up, Sandra Trattnigg. Once she does, her main aria is delivered with panache, allowing the singing to continue to be good across the board. I like this one a lot!

Well, this is not divided in acts, but for the sake of this commentary I've been considering the Vorspiel I und II (Prelude I and II) as the first act, and the Hauptspiel Erstes Bild (Main part, First Image) as the second act. This way, the Zweites Bild (Second Image) would be the third act (it makes sense since it comes after the very beautiful Symphonisches Intermezzo). The Letzes Bild (Last Image) then would be the equivalent of a fourth act. This division in "Images" seems to make reference to Busoni's attempt to make of this a dreamy kind of experience.

The last act is totally dominated by Thomas Hampson's spectacular singing. There is a half-naked woman (seems to be obligatory in Zurich Opera House performances) but nothing that would set off Alma's Boob-O-Meter too strongly. A naked man walks slowly through the background as well. The last scene has very bombastic orchestration. Some may find it a little over-the-top. This is probably the fault of Busoni's pupil who finished the opera rather than his own because things were more delicate at first.

I've always liked Thomas Hampson, but he is truly phenomenal here. It's maybe his best work among those that I've seen. He delivers a beautiful, full baritone with excellent musical phrasing, and acts well.

Highly recommended! This will enter the select cycle of my favorite opera DVDs/blu-rays.

January 2nd, 2012, 08:17 PM

Having reread the book just before watching the DVD, I was very impressed at the way the librettists adapted it to bring out the principal themes: the two-minute hate, the intrusive broadcasts with meaningless statistics and absurd claims of military victory against the ever-shifting enemy, Winston’s job rewriting the past in the ministry of Truth, his little acts of rebellion, the apparatchik Parsons and his foul spying children, Symes and his paean to Doublespeak, physical jerks, the hanging of the prisoner, the bomb, the meeting with Julia and falling in love, renting the room, plotting with O’Brien in his Inner Party apartment, the waiting room at the Ministry of Love, the torture scenes, and the rats and the breaking of Winston, and finally the meeting with Julia when love is dead.

How they packed all this into one evening is partly due to the lightning scene changes courtesy of one of LePage’s famous machines, but one this time that serves the action most effectively. The sets and costumes create a dour Soviet 50s atmosphere entirely appropriate to the plot, with the action taking place under large pictures of Big Brother and a telescreen with frequent voiced announcements (read by John Hurt, no less).

The cast is excellent, with cameos by luminaries such as Lawrence Brownlee as the Newspeak expert Syme and Diana Damrau as a very convincing gym instructor (she even did the splits) and later as a truly horrible drunken prostitute. Richard Margison was rather bland as O’Brien, I would have preferred someone who looked less brutish but was more genuinely chilling. Nancy Gustafson was a little underpowered in relation to the orchestra and chorus, but was convincing as Julia and especially moving in the last act. And Simon? Well my only complaint is that he is too good-looking for Winston, but as we all know he does tortured heroes to a T, and in this opera he has to be literally tortured (harrowing scene warning). As well as singing in all possible positions, the music made horrific demands on him and he navigated even the high notes very well.

What about the music? Well, I would characterise it as illustrative and eclectic in style, employing everything from 50’s popular ditties and blues to twelve tone serialism (the latter for the bad guy hehe). It sounded hard to sing with some truly horrible intervals. Competent if not perhaps stunning or enthralling.

I reckon this is worth seeing as a piece of theatre rather than a musical experience, although if you don’t know the book, I recommend watching the bonus interview with Lorin Maazel on Disc 2 where he takes you through the plot.

January 2nd, 2012, 08:24 PM

I am aware that there is a lot of controversy surrounding the politics of this DVD, and I don't want to get into the rights and wrongs of the issues surrounding it.

What I will say is that there is a balanced and sympathetic presentation of the points of view of both main protagonists in the Israel/Palestine dispute, and it becomes clear just through the film itself, supported by harrowing reconstructions of atrocious events as well as historical newsreels, that there is so much terrible history on both sides that an easy resolution is impossible.

But unlike the beautiful near-oratorio that Adams wrote, this is a realistic film, where individuals in all their complexity are developed and explored. It's riveting, distressing, a complete emotional roller-coaster. I was crying like a baby at the end, because it is a true and poignant story of innocents caught up in a terrible situation which could happen to any of us.

The film itself is beautifully done, made on a real cruise ship over ten days of boiler-pressure intensity, and sung live in challenging circumstances by a talented cast of singer-actors, supported by some wonderful silent actors. A documentary and commentary are welcome extras.

Approach it with an open mind - I highly recommend it.

January 2nd, 2012, 08:38 PM

Vladimir Cosma is a veteran composer from Romania, but a resident since many years in France. He has written some nice soundtracks, like "La raison d'Etat", "Diva" ó "Le Bal".

During three years he worked in his first opera, Marius et Fanny, based on the marseillaise plays by Marcel Pagnol. The premiere was at Marseille, in 2007.

The main roles were sung by Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu, that are really good, especially her, that communicates well a shy girl, using a surprisingly youthful timbre and a French accent not quite academic, but charming.

The score is not difficult to sing, and is full of "old-fashioned" melody. This is not a great piece, but I bet it can really please many opera lovers.



Overall: C, recommended for nostalgics of old-fashioned Opera.

January 3rd, 2012, 08:05 PM

Brian Ferneyhough (Coventry, 1943), is one of the most prestigious composers today. Apart from this, he has been also a musical teacher both in Europe and the United States.

His music, considered within the "New Complexity" avant-garde group, is written using several layers of significance, and requires some considerable effort from the listener and, above all, from the performer. However, the reward hidden in pieces like the String Quarters, is big enough.

Ferneyhough has only written one opera so far, Shadowtime, completed in 2005.


It's based on the last moments of philosopher Walter Benjamin's life, and also the first moments of his death. There are seven scenes combining real world, and events in the dying mind of Benjamin. The more dramatic part is scene V, Pools of Darkness, where historical characters (Hitler, Einstein, Karl Marx, Groucho Marx, ...) question Benjamin and themselves. Each of those characters is presented under a specific musical form: canon, passacaglia, fugue,.. extracted from the history of Western Music, from the Middle Ages to the Romantic era.

This is a non compromising avant-garde piece. Difficult to hear, and unlikely to be a love at first sight. But can really be quite interesting, if one knows what it's about.

Overall: B, recommended for avant-garde Opera lovers.

January 3rd, 2012, 08:13 PM

Of course, Walter Braunfels's best known opera is Die Vogel, a free adaptation of a comedy by Aristophanes, in which Braunfels pour out his bitterness after the First World War.

This wonderful duet between Kwon and Wottrich opens the second Act, and represents the victory of Beauty over Unloveliness.

Die Vogel - Duet (http://www.goear.com/listen/628fbed/acto-ii-die-vogel-kwon-y-wottrich-ah-ah-narzissus-braunfels)

But her best piece, in my opinion, is Szenen aus dem Leben der Heiligen Johanna, a work the composer, despite many efforts, was unable to get performed. The libretto, written by Braunfels himself, is based on the actual trial of Joan of Arc.

The opera was finally premiered in the year 2001, in Stockholm (in concert), and released in the excellent CD above. It was also staged in Berlin, in 2008.

It makes for a fascinating hearing, with some superb choral writing, and some wonderful arias for the roles of the Dauphin, Gilles de Rais and Joan herself.

A brief sample:

Braunfels - Johanna (http://www.goear.com/listen/3b51661/heiligen-johanna-braunfels)

Overall: B+, recommended for all Opera lovers.

January 3rd, 2012, 08:14 PM

Hans Krása was killed in the Holocaust, but first he wrote some operas, like this Verlobung im Traum, premiered in 1933, in Prague.

It's based on a Dostoyevsky's tale, involving a prince, a beautiful girl, Zina, her mother, Maria Alexandrovna, that wants her daughter to marry the prince, and a handsome boy, Fedya, in love with Zina. The prince, a true gentleman, release Zina to let her marry Fedya, but the boy dies, and her mother looks for a new fiancé, an old provincial magistrate.

The music is lively, and this a nice opera to listen.

A few musical bits:

1) Zina singing Bellini's Casta Diva and inflamming the prince's passion.

Verlobung - 1 (http://www.goear.com/listen/adf807f/verlobung-im-traum-casta-diva-krasa)

2) The beautiful second Act overture.

Verlobung - 2 (http://www.goear.com/listen/ab1e563/verlobung-im-traum-ouverture-akt-2-krasa)[/QUOTE]

Overall: B, recommended for 20th century Opera lovers.

January 3rd, 2012, 08:30 PM

This is an ardous voyage for the listener, but it's not without compensations.

The Mask of Orpheus
Lyric Tragedy in Three Acts

Music by Harrison Birtwistle / Libretto by Peter Zinoviev

The Man / The Myth ---> Baritone
The Hero ---> Mime
The Woman / The Myth ---> Mezzo
The Heroine ---> Mime
The Man / The Myth ---> Tenor
The Hero ---> Mime
The Oracle of the Dead/Hecate ---> Soprano
The Troupe of the Ceremonies / Judges of the Dead:
The Caller ---> Bass
First Priest ---> Tenor
Second Priest ---> Baritone
Third Priest ---> Bass
The Three Women / Furies:
Furies ---> alto
The Troupe of Passing Clouds ---> Mimes
The Voice of Apollo ---> Pre-recorded

This is not a linear drama, but rather we see the same events from different points of view, playing with time, and each main character split in three: Human (singer), Myth (off-stage voice and puppets) and Hero (mimes).

There are also six interludes with electronic music, a brilliant percussion, no strings in the orchestra ("They are not in the nature of the piece. The Rhythmic, percussive elements predominate. What would the strings bring to it?. They are too lyrical, too romantic, and I don't want Orpheus to be Romantic. I could try and escape this romantic association of the strings, but how do you get away from the way the instruments speak?. In the end, I decided not to try". )...

Parodos (http://www.goear.com/listen/37d8915/moo-1-1-b)

First Poem of Reminiscence (http://www.goear.com/listen/c3a5ea2/moo-1-2-b)

Overall: B+, recommended for avant-garde Opera lovers.

January 4th, 2012, 01:50 PM
Perhaps some members are not yet familiar with the work of composer Veniamin Fleishman.

This is understandable, for we are talking about a man who died in his youth, fighting in the Siege of Leningrad, at 28 years old.

Fleishman was one of the best students of Shostakovich, and left a manuscript with his only surviving work, the opera Скрипка Ротшильда (Rothschild's Violin), based on the short story by Chekhov.

After the war, Shostakovich rescued the manuscript, completed the orchestration and tried to stage the opera, which he finally achieved in 1960.

Is this opera more by Fleishman or by Shostakovich?. We will never know for certain, as the original manuscript was lost after Shostakovich's work on it. In any case, it is quite an interesting piece, and a pity that someone as apparently talented as Fleishman died so young.


Let's listen to the beginning of this opera:

Fleishman - Rothschild's Violin (http://www.goear.com/listen/af16e7c/vfrv-)

Overall: B-, recommended for the curious listener.

January 4th, 2012, 02:00 PM
Salvatore Sciarrino

Salvatore Sciarrino (Palermo, 1947) is one of the most prolific and celebrated Italian composers of the last 40 years. Since the 1960s he has written a big number of pieces, in many different formats. His is a sparse music, writing usually in extended instrument techniques, creating thin, fragile atmospheres.

In Opera, his most outstanding achievements are Macbeth, Lohengrin, Perseo e Andromeda and, by far the best one in my view, Luci mie traditrici, written in 1998, using an ensemble of 22 musicians and four soloist voices, that some reviewers were as far as to salute like the new Pelléas et Mélisande of the end of the 20th century.

Sciarrino is an avant-garde composer, that is not looking behind, except in homage to other composers, like Monteverdi or Berlioz. He is always trying to find new timbres, new relations between the dfferent groups of sound from his players. He uses a lot repetition as a way to create a private universe, and invite the listener to enter this world inside his mind.

There are three recordings of Luci Mie Traditrici (My Treacherous Eyes):


This is the best one, conducted by composer Beat Furrer, with the excellent Klangforum Wien ensemble:


but this is also a very good one, conducted by Sciarrino's close friend Tito Ceccherini.


the latest version, with a reviewed score by Sciarrino.


Year 1590. Carlo Gesualdo, prince of Venosa and also a composer, surprised his wife in bed with other man, and killed both lovers. Based on this real story, Giacinto Andrea Cicognini published in the 17th century, Il tradimento per l'onore, used by Sciarrino to wrote the libretto of his opera.


First Act: The Duke and Duchess of Malaspina are walking in his garden, admiring some beautiful roses. One thorn draws blood from the Duchess' hand and the Duke faints. When he recovers, husband and wife swore eternal love to each other, while a servant, a secret admirer of the Duchess, watch them hiding in the bush. That same evening, a nobleman visiting the palace and the Duchess suffer a coup de foudre, and fell desperately in love. The servant informs the Duke that decides to take vengeance on her unfaithful wife.

Second Act: At nightfall, the Duke and the Duchess are alone, in the dining room, and the Duke ask the Duchess to go with him to their bedroom. On the marital bed, there is a corpse, the nobleman's. The Duchess understand his husband is aware of her affair, and bare her chest, waiting for the knife to take her life away.

One scene in youtube:


Overall: A, recommended for all Opera lovers

January 16th, 2012, 03:03 PM

L'Amour de loin - Kaija Saariaho

Jaufré: Daniel Belcher
Clémence: Ekaterina Lekhina
Le Pèlerin: Marie-Ange Todorovitch

Conductor: Kent Nagano
Orchestra: Berlin Symphonic

This is one of the best and most succesful operas in the last thirty years.

Nagano conducted the world premiere at the Szalburg's Festival and in this CD we got his vision of the opera. The way he deploys the orchestral tapestry devised by Saariaho is amazing. The sound envelop us, we are surrounded by a series of silky textures, here and there broken by sharp daggers, and supported by a superb percussion.

The singers, however, are not at the same height. Balcher sings a Troubadour that resembles more a travel agent than a poet. A role like Clémence is still too much for Ekaterina Lekhina, and the best of Ms. Todorovitch's performance is her native French accent.

Overall: B, an interesting version of an opera that everyone should know.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 16th, 2012, 03:24 PM
and, by far the best one in my view, Luci mie traditrici, written in 1998, using an ensemble of 22 musicians and four soloist voices, that some reviewers were as far as to salute like the new Pelléas et Mélisande of the end of the 20th century.

Overall: A, recommended for all Opera lovers

Agreed. I reviewed it as well, post #6 here.

February 3rd, 2012, 09:58 AM

Conductor: E. -P. Salonen - Philharmonia Orchestra
Nekrotzar: W. White
Amanda: L. Claycomb
Amando: C. Hellekant
Piet the Pot: G. Clark
Mescalina: J. van Nes
prince Go-Go: D. Lee Ragin
Astradamors: F. Olsen
Gepopo, Chief of the Secret Police / Venus: S. Ehlert
White Minister: S. Cole
Black Minister: R. Suart

This is the English revised version.

James Ensor: Death Chasing the Flock of Mortals

The original libretto was written by Ligeti and Michael Meschke in German, but was premiered in Swedish, the year 1978. It was also sung in Italian, French and English. Then, in 1997, Ligeti revised the opera and was premiered again, in English, at Szalburg. This new version has also been sung in German.

In 1965, after the big success of the Requiem in Sweden, Ligeti received a commission to write an opera for the Stockholm Opera Theater. At the beginning, he pondered to follow the steps of Mauricio Kagel and work on an 'antiopera', but finally settled for a more realistic setting and an intelligible text, and so created an 'anti-antiopera', in his own words. :)

He was intested in adapting some piece by Jarry, but decided to use La Balade du Grand Macabre, a play by Belgiam writer Michel de Ghelderode, instead. In any case, he condensed the original drama, and also, up to a point, introduced something of Jarry absurd's techniques.

The 1990s revision was decided because Ligeti thought the original piece was too much oriented to the theater, and music was somehow in a second plane. He reduced the Second Act, extended the Fourth, put music to some long spoken fragments, practically wrote a new orchestration... and significantly improved the opera.

There are still some bizarre instruments, like car horns or the popular harmonica, but better integrated in the context, and wisely merged with the use of musical forms like Bourrée, Canon, Passacaglia,...

The vocal part demands some virtuoso singing from Gepopo or Venus, but also makes an extensive use of parlando. The ensemble at the end of the First Act has an almost Verdian flavour.

This version is good enough, a nice team work.

A small example, the fragment "Dies Irae":

Dies Irae (http://www.goear.com/listen.php?v=8727f1e)

Overall: B, recommended for lovers of Avant-garde Opera.

February 6th, 2012, 02:38 PM

Julie is the fourth opera of Belgian composer Philippe Boesmans, premiered in 2005.

Boesmans, born in 1936, is the composer-in-residence at La Monnaie, in Brussels. There he has premiered other operas like Attitude (1979), La passion de Gilles (1983), based in the life of Gilles de Rais, a comrade of Joan of Arc, that was burned at the stake for heretic and pedophile in 1440, Wintermarchen (1999) and the recent Yvonne, Princesse de Bourgogne.

Julie, after Belgium, has also been performed in Austria, Germany, France and England.

It belongs to an stage in Boesman's career in which he is seeking a real connection with a large audience, trying to give a prominent role to traditional drama. In his own words, "an opera must be based in the alternance of emotions, of dramatic tension and the release of this tension".

Julie is an adaptation of Strindberg's play "Miss Julie". Is an intimate piece, a chamber opera in one Act and not very long. There are only 18 musicians in the pit, but the sound palette is spectacular. This is a sensual music, richly coloured, very easy to understand and with a good, albeit a little monotonous, vocal writing.

Overall: B, interesting for any lover of Opera, that would like to get a small trip out of the trodden path.


February 11th, 2012, 05:52 PM

Robert Oppenheimer - Gerald Finley
Kitty Oppenheimer - Jessica Rivera
General Leslie Groves - Eric Owens
Edward Teller - Richard Paul Fink
Robert R. Wilson - Thomas Glenn
Jack Hubbard - James Maddalena
Captain James Nolan - Jay Hunter Morris
Pasqualita - Ellen Rabiner

Conductor - Lawrence Renes
Stage Director - Peter Sellars

Sellars's staging is great, offering the fast paced rhythm, the demand for pressure that need the piece. However, the video producion is not as fortunate, with too many close-ups, that deprive us of the general vision. Also, the dance scene could be better planned.

Gerald Finley, on top of good singing, is able to enter the skin of Robert Oppenheimer, especially in the very beautiful aria, based on a poem by John Donne, Batter my Heart:


Also Jessica Rivera composes a fascinating portrait of Kitty Openheimer. After the first scene, to hear how Rivera faces the aria "Am I in your light" (the text is a poem by Muriel Rukeyser) is a very succesful contrast from the public arena, from the problems in a project of colossal size, to the bedroom of a couple, a very private moment. And treated with an admirable delicacy. She is able to manage her role in the more dreary Second Act, too.


Eric Owens's General Groves (also the Groves of Sellars and Adams) is a weaker character, sometimes bordering on slapstick. Also his vocality is too close to Fink's Edward Teller. The secondary cast is fine, with a good performance by Ellen Rabiner, as Pasqualita, in her lullaby.

The orchestra, chorus and conductor are just adequate.

Overall: B+, a must for lovers of Opera.

February 12th, 2012, 07:10 PM

François - José van Dam
The Angel - Dawn Upshaw
The Leper - Chris Merrit
Brother Léon - Urban Malmberg

Conductor: Kent Nagano

Wonderful, meditated and accurate reading of the score from Nagano, with a very inspired orchestra. Van Dam was no longer the singer he was in the 1980s, but he offers a very poetic approach to the character. Instead of presenting a great human being in which saintliness is growing, he chooses to sing a Saint embodied in a doleful man, keeping some distance, almost on the verge of skepticism.

Listening to Dawn Upshaw, one arrives to the same conclusion than the libretto: "C'était peut-être un Ange" (maybe this was an Angel). Merrit's Leper, instead of neurological problems or leprosy was sung in the manner of a drug abuser missing his daily dose. Great work from the singers playing the Monks.

Overall: A, recommended for all Opera lovers.

February 12th, 2012, 07:20 PM

François - José Van Dam
The Angel - Christiane Eda-Pierre
The Leper - Kenneth Riegel
Brother Léon - Michel Philippe

Conductor - Seiji Ozawa

This is a historic document, the world premiere of what will be one of the most important operas of all time.

Ozawa's orchestra is like a mountain, so solid it appears. But this is not just a mountain, rather a volcano than in some parts of the score, is threatening to erupt.

Van Dam's François is also petrean, massif, colossal. The voice of the Belgian singer looks especially forged for the role, with a perfect diction, a sobriety full of internal strenght.

The Angel of Christiane Eda-Pierre is not that telluric, but rather flies in the immaterial heights of pure sound, as written by Messiaen. Perhaps we are missing more purety in her singing.

Riegel sings a proper Leper, and Brother Léon is perhaps too delicate, as portrayed by Michel Philippe.

Overall: B+, an excellent version for Saint François's lovers.

February 20th, 2012, 09:33 PM

Refugee – Christopher Robson
Controller – Claron McFadden
Bill – Richard Coxon
Tina – Mary Plazas
Older Woman – Nuala Willis
Stewardess – Ann Taylor
Steward – Gary Magee
Minskman – Steven Page
Minskwoman – Anne Mason
Immigration Officer – Richard Van Allan

Conductor - David Parry

Flight is an opera in three acts, with music by Jonathan Dove and libretto by April De Angelis premiered at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, in 1999.

It's based on the true-life story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee who lived at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, for several years. Many will remember Steven Spielberg's movie The Terminal, on the same subject, but independent of the opera.

The libretto, from a dramatic point of view, works very well. It's just centered in the reaction of a group of people living an experience together, and it will be able to stand on its own. In musical terms, Dove is offering here more an American, than an English opera, it's easy to trace the influence of Broadway and John Adams. But all the characters are very well portrayed as individuals, with the right vocality assigned to each one, starting with the choice of a counter-tenor for the Refugee, that contributes to somehow single him from the others. The ensembles are very well treated, and are a strong point of this piece.

On the other hand, while the orchestra is well handled and works in perfect unison with the singers, the orchestration is a bit unimaginative.

This is not avant-garde opera, but it's undoubtedly contemporary. Looking to the past, in a style that could be described as "Neo-Romantic", but with a well-defined personality.


Overall: B, recommended for anyone starting to explore contemporary opera, and a little bit afraid about it.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
March 21st, 2012, 04:37 AM
The Consul, Opera in three acts. Music and libretto (in English) by Gian-Carlo Menotti (1911-2007), premiered on March 15, 1950 - Winner, Pulitzer Prize for Music (1950), and the New York Drama Circle Critics' Award (1950).


DVD released by VAI in 2004, with filmed TV version from 1960
Audio Mono. Video 4:3, black-and-white. Region code 0 (all).
The mono sound is of very good quality, clear and crisp, no noise, and the lines sung by the artists are very easy to understand even without subtitles, but these are available (optional, in English, French, German, and Italian). The image is typical 1960 B&W TV image, but good enough.
Running time 120 minutes
Liner notes - just a brief (but heartfelt) essay by lead soprano Patricia Neway written in 2003 with her memories of the premiere (she created the role of Magda), and list of chapters. No bonus.

Produced by Jean Dalrymple
Directed for TV by Bill Butler and William A. Graham
Musical Direction by Werner Torkanowsky
Assistant Conductor Felix Popper
No mention of orchestra

Cast, in order of appearance:

John Sorel - Chester Ludgin
Magda Sorel - Patricia Neway
The Mother - Evelyn Sachs
The Police Agent - Leon Lishner
The Secretary - Regina Sarfaty
Mr. Kofner - Arnold Voketaitis
The Foreign Woman - Maria Marlo
The Magician - Norman Kelly
Assan - Dan Merriman
Anna Gomez - Maria DiGerlando
Vera Boronel - Ruth Kobart


First of all, this is a great, great American modern opera. The work is of the highest quality, with rarely seen dramatic impact and musical intensity - a true masterpiece.

Magda's extraordinary aria in second act, To this we've come, is arguably one of the most impressive moments in all of opera. It is incredibly poignant, a formidable tour de force that all opera lovers - actually, all lovers of good theater - must witness at least once. Yes, it is *this* good, not to be missed.

The libretto is top notch. It reminds one of a Kafka novel. No synopsis can do it justice, because the repetitions (which accentuate the oppressive nature of the story and the futility of any attempt to change the system) and the claustrophobic, deteriorating feel, need to be experienced first hand to be fully absorbed.

But in a few words, here's what it is about:

John, a freedom fighter and hero, lives in a totalitarian European country (unspecified) and is persecuted by the secret police. He flies to the border but doesn't cross it; he rather hides in the mountains because he wants his wife Magda, his baby son and his mother to obtain visas and cross the border themselves, so that he'll then be able to finally cross it and join them in the freer neighboring country (he wants to be sure they'll be able to escape before he makes his move). This all happens very rapidly, and next the bulk of the opera is spent at the consulate waiting room, where John's wife (and several other people) come back daily for weeks and months to try and secure visas for themselves. In this, they are countered by the cold and obstructionist secretary who requires more and more papers and never lets anybody speak to the consul. The battle of wills between the two women occupies most of the opera. Meanwhile the baby dies, then John's mother dies as well. His comrades warn him of the events, and he rushes back to the consulate to meet his wife. He misses her by a hair (she leaves before he comes in). The secret police invades the consulate and he is arrested. The secretary tries to call Magda (she finally shows some solidarity). The phone rings, but nobody answers since Magda is not home yet. She gets in right after the phone stops ringing. Magda, not knowing that her husband is back, and by then convinced that there is no way out since she'll never get the visa, turns the oven on to commit suicide. She gets delirious and hallucinates (Lo, Death's frontiers are open - another extraordinary number), recovering memories from her past, remote and recent. The phone rings again, but it's too late, Magda makes an attempt to answer, but falls dead. Curtain.

Buyer beware. This is not for the faint of heart. It's terribly sad (of Death of Klinghoffer-level of disturbing imagery).

This DVD contains a spectacular performance, of historical importance (since it features the same soprano who created the role ten years earlier). The cast is simply outstanding (both in vocal and acting terms - particularly in the case of the two main female leads - Magda and The Secretary - incredibly good performances!). It's an exquisite ensemble work since there are *absolutely* no weak links. These are all accomplished artists, and direction is very good too - even though the special effects from 1950 are rather limited to making a blurry peripheral image in the scenes of nightmare and the hallucinatory moment in third act. But it's all very well done and efficient.

The elusive nature of any possible solution is well depicted by the smart choice of title - The Consul, whose presence is felt behind the doors of his office, but he's never seen throughout the opera.

This is A++ material, and obligatory buy for lovers of modern opera, but it is also indicated for all, since the sheer theatrical aspects will please anybody who likes a good play, independently of the music - which does greatly enhance the impact of this work. It is available from Amazon.com [here (http://www.amazon.com/Menotti-Consul-Patricia-Chester-Ludgin/dp/B00018D530/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1332301066&sr=1-1)] for the relatively steep price of $33.99, but in my opinion it is more than worth it.

March 21st, 2012, 08:09 AM
In this case, I don't think many "traditional" opera fans will be scared about the music, either, that is very melodic in an easily recognizable way. Rather the other way around, many avant-garde aficionados don't like The Consul much.

This is Virgina Zeani, singing the role of Magda in Italian:


March 21st, 2012, 11:15 PM
I haven't listened to The Consul, but we did an opera project here at school earlier this year, and two people sang a little excerpt from the 3rd act (the recitative duet sort of thing between the Secretary and Vera Boronel). It was really, really good.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
March 21st, 2012, 11:36 PM
I haven't listened to The Consul, but we did an opera project here at school earlier this year, and two people sang a little excerpt from the 3rd act (the recitative duet sort of thing between the Secretary and Vera Boronel). It was really, really good.

It's gorgeous. Lately and as I learn more about them, I've been proud of American operas. Our composers actually do write good stuff. We're too often in awe of the great European composers, but in the 20th and 21th century, America has been showing lots of operatic strength.

March 21st, 2012, 11:41 PM
It's gorgeous. Lately and as I learn more about them, I've been proud of American operas. Our composers actually do write good stuff. We're too often in awe of the great European composers, but in the 20th and 21th century, America has been showing lots of operatic strength.

I agree. I haven't heard much American opera, but what I've heard has been very good indeed. The Consul is officially on my To Listen List (tm).

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
March 24th, 2012, 09:04 AM
Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (1930, Leipzig), opera in three acts
Music by Kurt Weill - Libretto by Bertold Brecht

Euroarts DVD recorded live at LA Opera (composite, 1 and 4 March 2007), released in December 2007


James Conlon / Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Directed by John Doyle
Set Designer Mark Bailey
Costumes Ann Hould-Ward

Sung in English - translation from the original German by Michael Feingold

Jimmy - Anthony Dean Griffey
Jenny - Audra McDonald
Begbick - Patti LuPone
Fatty - Robert Wörle
Moses - Donnie Ray Albert
Jack - John Easterlin
Bill - Mel Ulrich
Alaska Wolf Joe - Steven Humes

NTSC 16:9 picture of excellent quality (color, definition)
Sound PCM stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1 also of excellent quality (balance, depth)
Subtitles (optional) - German, French, Spanish (no English)
Region code 0 (worldwide)
Running time - Opera 133 minutes, bonus 22 minutes

Bonus: James Conlon talks about Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny

Liner notes: complete credits and track list with time and characters
Essay in English, German, and French; B&W production photos

In summary, the technical aspects and the packaging are impeccable.


This is a very interesting work. It is of course laden with Brecht's Marxism with its ferocious criticism of capitalism, with the city of Mahagonny standing as a metaphor for all vices and greed. Musically speaking, it is as or more complex than the Dreigroschenoper, since other than the cabaret music, it incorporates several musical idioms - from classical operatic singing to a blend of popular and contemporary styles, up to and including jazzy saxophones. Weill initially conceived this opera as a sequence of separate numbers (a sort of rebellion against Wagnerian written-through operas), and a shorter version of the main numbers exists and was performed before the full opera was finished (six numbers for voice and small band described as Songspiel Mahagonny).

Composition started in 1927 and ended in 1930, therefore, it overlapped with the Dreigroschenoper (1928), and then it was influenced by the bigger hit of the former, even after it was finished: the public came to expect a certain style, and members of the original Dreigroschenoper cast (including Weill's wife Lotte Lenya) appeared in the Berlin 1931 Mahagonny. So there was a "ThreePenny-zation" so to speak of Mahagonny, after the fact, which accounts for a certain ambiguity in the different readings that conductors can give to this work.

There are several very interesting elements: the fact for example that the Deus ex-machina that makes an appearance can't solve anything and is actually rejected by the characters, ends up frustrated and utters "you all go to Hell" - to which the characters respond - "we are in Hell already." In addition to the Marxist hint, this approach to God can also be seen as satirical to the world of opera itself. Another notable event is the fact that during Jimmy's trial, he is given small sentences for various relatively serious offenses, but then is given the death penalty for being poor, with comments that there is no bigger sin than lacking money.

The spanning of the operatic vs. the musical worlds is recovered in this production in the matter of casting. Side by side with bona fide operatic singers such as excellent American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, dramatic baritone Donnie Ray Albert, and tenor Robert Wörle, we get Broadway singer Patti LuPone, and actress/singer Audra McDonald of musicals and TV fame. According to James Conlon, he chose to read the score as situated in the midst of a triangle, with the points being opera, musical theater, and specifically Brechtian theater.

The end result is certainly successful. Acting and singing in this production are good for all members of the cast. Griffey is vocally phenomenal, and attractive McDonald together with intriguing LuPone find the right theatrical tone for the show. Sets and lighting appropriately use neon signs to convey the decadent sin-city. Costumes are also evocative and coherent. Overall, it's a very pleasant production, although a bit subdued (it doesn't reach highly enthusiastic marks - at one point, one would want a bit more outrageous daring - where are those Regies when we need them? - laughs).

This production is sung in English. I usually don't like opera in translation, but I didn't mind this one, given its musical theater feel and the fact that the story is geographically situated in America. It is weird that there are no English subtitles while German, French, and Spanish are available. Those who only speak English shouldn't stay away from this DVD for this reason, since both the sung and spoken English are perfectly understandable.

Given the inevitable comparison with the Dreigroschenoper, I personally prefer the other one, but this work is also very compelling, and musically rewarding.

This opera seems to be well represented on DVD and blu-ray, with three other notable productions from the Met, Salzburg, and the Teatro Real with La Fura dels Baus. I haven't seen any of the others. This one from LA Opera is certainly very decent, but I'd love to hear what others may have to say about the other three productions.

Recommended, especially given the bargain price, currently on sale at Amazon.com for $9.12 - a lot less than the 30 something I paid at Barnes and Nobles, bummer! Click here (http://www.amazon.com/Weill-Rise-Fall-City-Mahagonny/dp/B000XUPB7Y/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1332576593&sr=1-1) to get it.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
March 26th, 2012, 03:46 AM
Little Women, opera in two acts. Music and libretto by Mark Adamo (born 1962), based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott (1868)
Premiered in 1998, in Houston, TX, USA


Blu-ray released in 2010 by Naxos and Houston Grand Opera, also available on DVD
Region coding ALL, NTSC 16:9, PCM 2.0 and DTS 5.1, optional English subtitles
Running time 115 minutes
Bonus - very brief footage of the composer talking about the opera while the credits roll at the end
Insert: complete credits, complete track list with names of arias, characters, and time; one B&W picture of the conductor with the composer; brief biography of the composer; brief essay by the composer himself about his work and the concept behind the music (very interesting); long synopsis written by the composer himself (also very interesting, much more than your regular synopsis, quite poetic and insightful). Thumbnails and brief biographies of all singers and the conductor.

Quality of sound track: good
Quality of image: less sharp that what is expected for blu-ray, looks rather like DVD image

This performance was recorded at an empty Cullen Theater, on 17-18 March 2000, therefore there are no curtain calls.
It was recorded for television (PBS Great Performances, in co-production of Houston Grand Opera and Chanel Thirteen/WNET New York), and directed for TV by Brian Large.

Patrick Summers conducts the Hilton Grand Opera Orchestra
Stage director Peter Webster
Set Designer Christopher McCollum
Costume Designer Melissa Graff


Jo, Stephanie Novacek
Meg, Joyce DiDonato
Laurie, Chad Shelton
Beth, Stacey Tappan
Amy, Margareth Lloyd
John Brooke, Daniel Bercher
Friedrich Bhaer, Chen-Ye Yuan
Cecilia March, Katherine Ciesinski
Gideon March, James Maddalena
Alma March, Gwendolyn Jones
Mr. Dashwood, Derrick Parker


I've been getting a big dose of American masterpieces lately, such as the live The Crucible at Piedmont Opera, The Consul on it's classical DVD rendition, and now this gorgeous blu-ray with Little Women.

This is one of the most exquisite opera recordings for the home theater, with Brian Large's competent TV direction, as usual. It is well packaged by Naxos, including the very interesting remarks by the composer himself, and the fabulous synopsis also written by Mark Adamo - which makes of this recording something of historical interest (enhanced by the fact that a good half of the cast is the same of the world premiere's).

All elements come together nicely. Set design is very well done, with multiple levels, and a plethora of objects in the attic that apparently symbolizes one's memory filled with childhood elements (like a wooden horse, a puppet). Stage direction is close to perfect, with these multiple levels being very efficiently used. Characters come in and out through trap doors, closets, chests. The movements of the four sisters on stages are carefully choreographed, and make sense in the way they match the action and the music. Peter Webster shows that he understands the music and the libretto, and this is a refreshing aspect of this production, unlike so many others.

Costumes are traditional and very appropriate, in the way that they are adequate to the personality of the character wearing them.

The orchestra and the conductor do an excellent job, with precise tempi that, again, overlap perfectly with the action on stage (this must have been a very carefully rehearsed production).

This work mixes atonal music for the recitative and purely orchestral parts, with very melodic tonal music for many of the arias and ensembles. In my opinion, the way Adamo does it is spectacularly successful. It not only conveys perfectly the atmosphere of the beloved novel, but also enhances it, with the fractured atonal stretches being pungent and intense to reflect the characters' inner turmoil, and the tonal melodies being extremely beautiful and heartfelt, expressing closely feelings like love, grief, and solitude.

Singing is top notch across the board, maybe with James Maddalena slightly behind his peers as the closest one to what we might call a weak link in this production (but actually, not bad at all). Leading the line of the great performances are Stephanie Novacek in the main role of Jo, and Katherine Ciesinski as an impressive Cecilia March. The others fall in between, with Joyce DiDonato being her usual competent self in a relatively small role, and everybody else doing quite well.

The best aspect of this production is the acting. First of all, casting couldn't be any luckier in terms of physique du rôle. With the exception of Mr. Chen-Ye Yuan who obviously doesn't look German (but he is a good singer), these people look exactly like one would imagine while reading the novel.

Cute, attractive, but strong and stubborn Jo; pragmatic Meg; naive and romantic Amy; and fragile and altruistic Beth are perfectly depicted by four talented singers/actresses who really look their parts. The men look adequate as well, and hateful aunt Cecilia is played to perfection by Ms. Ciesinski.

I really loved how Ms. Novacek played and sung her role. Just perfect, extremely convincing in all little details, and her acting did not suffer from the over-exposure of the close-ups in high-def image. Her tears seemed very real, and her performance carried enormous dramatic punch.

See, when we think of these two excellent American mezzo-sopranos - Ms. DiDonato and Ms. Novacek, the former is much more famous (and she deserves every bit of her fame). However the latter is just as good, but she is often featured in new works and obscure works (as well as some baroque), so she doesn't get the same public recognition of her peer Joyce. But she is a fine, fine mezzo, with enormous acting talent. She can also be seen on DVD in Lully's Persée and Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti. On top of it all, she is a fine-looking woman.

This blu-ray is highly recommended. A+
Available on Amazon.com, [here (http://www.amazon.com/Adamo-Little-Blu-ray-Stephanie-Novacek/dp/B00442M0Z8/ref=sr_1_5?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1332736247&sr=1-5)], for $35.99 and from $25.53 at Amazon marketplace vendors. The DVD costs some 5 bucks less.

Here we have Joyce singing, opposite Stephanie:


And here we have Stephanie, in her unflattering dress of the late scenes:


What a beautiful opera! Again, my fellow Americans compose formidable modern and contemporary operas!

March 26th, 2012, 09:09 AM
About this kind of pieces, some critics would say it's indeed contemporary, but not "modern". They reserve this adjective for the avantgarde works.

Personally, I do think this Little Women is both contemporary *and* modern, and a very nice opera, suitable for almost every fan to like.

April 16th, 2012, 07:23 PM

Ladies and Gentleman I come to you a new human being. I come to you solemn and reverent. I come to you with a non-Wagner in my top 5 operas.

I believe there is a response in the General operatic discussion -> Contemporary opera thread about this opera. Good lord the ambition, the libretto, the music, the grace, the sparse action, the music, the drama, the music... I really can't even talk about it, i'll let Alex Ross do that: (http://www.therestisnoise.com/2004/04/messiaens_st_fr_1.html)
The libretto, which Messiaen wrote himself, would have posed no problems for an audience of fourteenth-century Loire villagers. The music is something else again: a twentieth-century echo chamber in which prosaic turns of phrase acquire shattering overtones. (highly recommend that article)

Finally, at age 19 after two years of chasing opera, I find something Important and Real (not counting Wagner).

Anyway, the dvd.

Opus Arte has I believe the only released taping of this play. It is a tricky play, not just anyone can pull it off, and the few stage directors who have tackled thus far were either today's veterans of adventurous opera staging or tomorrow's. (by the way, I found a still from the Sellars/Salonen production (http://www.hotreview.org/articles/landscapesaint.htm) and a friend said it looked like what he saw telecasted over a decade ago. does that mean it could be in any way available?)

This release is from D Netherlands Opera, with Pierre Audi at the stage and Ingo Metzmacher at the orchestra.

The staging, like the score itself, takes multiple passes through to really "get". Dramatically rich with good singing. the blocking holds up like an antique religious ritual, but with a lyricism lost on many Parsifal directors. I don't pretend to "understand" the score enough to rate the conductor's take, like Ross said, the world won't catch up to this opera for a century or two and the adventurous leaders who tackle it in our time ought to be rewarded in the history books, just for trying. This feeling reminds me of what I imagine Parsifal to have been like in the early 20th century, conductors and directors testing the water, no one is sure how exactly this piece works and everyone is trying to figure it out.

The technical quality of the discs is superb, which I'm told is no surprise to those familiar with Opus Arte's reputation. I must say, the videoing job is unlike most I've seen. I feel like it is harder for us to imagine what it was like in the house, but easier for us to enjoy it in the living room. This is partially due to the use of space in the house, but I would not object if that was the new direction for stage dvds to think about.

I have consulted these three discs with the deepest troubles of my soul. the appreciation of it, the real glory of the play in it's magnitude, took a real amount of time and growth before I could truly behold it.

A + + + + + + +

side note: on the internet and in music-libraries, I am found wishing more was available on Messiaen. Takemitsu, who distinctly post-messiaen, has had a stronger presence in available sheet music and scholarly books. I hope Alex Ross and those who say Messiaen is a Beethoven are right, it's only a matter of time before books and scores are bleeding out of every resource. I really wish I could find a score of this opera, I've looked everywhere. I did find this though. (http://books.google.com/books?id=qgZEuOeOX_8C&pg=PA207&lpg=PA207&dq=%22I+am+afraid,+I+am+afraid,+I+am+afraid+on+the +road%22&source=bl&ots=Z_HS2GCWfB&sig=bruLCOtkLS4dNlx7Izlq1GGCsYM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=fXGMT6n8FIX50gHY2PjUCQ&ved=0CB4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22I%20am%20afraid%2C%20I%20am%20afraid%2C%20I%2 0am%20afraid%20on%20the%20road%22&f=false)

April 16th, 2012, 07:34 PM
The score weights in excess of 20 kilograms!... :)

Don't worry too much about staging, it's not that important in this opera. There are a few very good versions in audio.

April 19th, 2012, 01:15 AM
Is this version of Doktor Faust any good?

Thomas Hampson (Doktor Faust), Gregory Kunde (Mephistopheles), Sandra Trattnigg (Die Herzogin von Parma), Reinaldo Macias (Der Herzog von Parma/ Des Mädchens Bruder/Soldat), Günther Groissboeck (Wagner), Martin Zysset (Ein Leutnant), Chorus and Orchestra of The Zurich Opera House, Philippe Jordan. Directed by Klaus Michael Grueber / Ellen Hammer, Set Design by Eduardo Arroyo, Costumes by Eva Dessecker & Lighting by Jürgen Hoffmann.


Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
April 19th, 2012, 03:02 AM
HC, this version of Doktor Faust has been reviewed by yours truly Almaviva, in post #18 of this same thread, and highly recommended.
Here: http://operalively.com/forums/showthread.php/18-Modern-Opera-on-DVD-blu-ray-and-CD/page2?p=3160&viewfull=1#post3160

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
May 13th, 2012, 05:20 AM
Tea, A Mirror of Soul - Opera in three acts (2002), sung in English
Music by Tan Dun
Libretto by Tan Dun and Xu Ying
Set in the Ninth Century, China in the Tang Dynasty, and Japan ten years later.

This is a live recording of the 22 October 2002 World Premiere at the Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Japan
The opera was commissioned by Suntory Hall
Co-production by The Netherlands Opera, Het Muziektheater Amsterdam, and Shanghai Grand Theater


Conductor: Tan Dun
Orchestra: NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo
Chorus: Bass-baritone Chorus of the The Netherlands Opera

Stage director: Pierre Audi
Lighting & Set Designer: Jean Kalman
Costume Designer: Angelo Figus
Libretto Editing: Diana Liao
Dramaturg: Beatrice Terry
Video Designer: Frank Scheffer

Japanese Prince / Monk (baritone): Haijing Fu
Chinese Princess / Puppet Monk (soprano): Nancy Allen Lundy
Chinese Prince / Puppet Monkey King (tenor): Christopher Gillett
Shadow / Ritualist / Daughter of Tea Sage Luyu (contralto): Ning Liang
Emperor / Shadow (bass): Stephen Richardson

Deutsche Grammophon release, 2004, DVD B0003851-09 GH, NTSC 16:9 (bonus 4:3), region code 0 (worldwide), sound PCM stereo, DTS 5.1, and DD 5.1. Bonus: Tan Dun Video Clips - The Map Showreal - Clips. Running times: opera 120 minutes, bonus 28 minutes. Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese. Menu language, English.

Plot summary:

Act I

The story opens in Japan with Seikyo, now a monk, recalling the tragic story of his love for Princess Lan. Ten years earlier the Japanese Prince Seikyo visits Chang'an, capital of the Tang Dynasty, in order to ask for the hand of Princess Lan in marriage. He arrives and interrupts a shaddow-puppet show that Lan and her brother (the Chinese Prince) are performing for their father. In spite of her brother's opposition by considering that the interruption was rude, her father gives her hand to Seikyo, impressed with his ability to recite a couplet of tea poems.

A Persian Prince arrives offering a thousand horses in exchange for the legendary "Book of Tea" - a book that contains secrets of the Yin and Yang (lines mapping the inner spaces of the body and mind) which the Chinese Prince reluctantly produces. Seikyo and the Chinese Prince heatedly dispute the book's authenticity. The former says the Tea Sage Luyu, the book's author, showed him the real one, and this one owned by the Prince is a fraud. The Prince offers to end his life if Seikyo can find and produce the real book. Seikyo equally says he will kill himself if he's proven wrong. Lan weeps from seing her beloved brother and her loved one seal their fates.

Act II

Seikyo and Lan travel South in search of the real "Book of Tea" which he hopes Luyu will show him. Lan tells Seikyo of a legend about how tea was invented, and they make love.


In the South, Lu, the daughter of the Tea Sage Luyu announces the death of her father. Seikyo and Lan arrive too late. Lu agrees with giving them the book, with the condition that they spread it's knowledge to the world, with love. As they read the book, the Prince breaks in and grabs the book from Lan. A deadly fight ensues between Seikyo and the Prince, but it is Lan who is mortally wounded when she gets in between them, trying to stop the duel. The Prince admits his error and asks Seikyo to kill him. Seikyo refuses to kill him, cuts his own hair, and becomes a monk.

All three acts contain various ritualistic ceremonies that highlight the symbolic meanings of tea, including elements such as wind, water, fire, and notions like emptiness and rebirth.


Sets are strikingly beautiful, huge, and made of elevated platforms and a triangular path. The opening scene has monks in white gowns, silent and solemn, standing on the platforms before the orchestra produces any sound. The skilful video direction shows Tan Dun in a semi-transparent image, conducting with solemnity, and the orchestra starts to produce haunting electronic-like humming sounds with natural noises (water dripping in three large bowls - percussionists "play" the water) - regrettably, there is a fair amount of audience noise and coughing.

A monk in red (Seikyo) "drinks" from an empty bowl of tea. The chorus starts singing, slowly... "Though bowl is empty... scent glows... though shadow is gone, dream... dream grows..."

The orchestra pit is in between the platforms and paths... and the chorus sits behind the highest platform, in layers, making a sort of wall.

Folks, this is all enormously beautiful and is used to great effect. What an opening!

Haijing Fu sings his first ariosi with great technique (clear enunciation, good volume and projection - as far as we can tell on a DVD, of course - and a beautiful voice with pleasant timbre and expressiveness, rending well the difficult melismas. We get more interesting water percussion, and scene II rolls in, where everything becomes more lively, and we meet Lan and the Chinese Prince.

We get that there is a monkey puppet show thanks to the ape-like movements of the same people dressed in white gowns. The princess carries a round prop, while the prince has a conic one. Nancy Lundy is cute, has a beautiful luminous smile, and her voice cuts well through the very onomatopoetic orchestra.

Christopher Gillett's voice doesn't fare as well and seems slightly hoarse. Stephen Richardson's bass instrument is good. Princess Lan gets some color in her costume, very enticing. The emperor is also full of colors. Seikyo's feather/straw-laden coat is bizarre, but he gets rid of it rapidly and also downs some colors.

Of the four protagonists in this scene, Lundy and Richardson are the more natural actors, while the other two appear stiff/forced, one underacts (Fu) and the other one (Gillett) engages in overacting.

Lighting is interesting. There is a tall column to the left of the stage that changes colors with the lighting.

Ning Liang starts to sing, and her voice has a rather strident ping in the higher register that I don't particularly like, but when the tessitura doesn't push her, she does relativelly well. She is also not a very expressive actress. With Gillett, she seems to be one of the two weak links in this cast, so far. Gillett however seems to warm up and does vocally better in the next scene (although not great), when he starts protesting the presence of Seikyo, but his acting remains deficient.

The blocking and stage direction are good, with interesting dynamic use of the spaces delimitated by the platforms, and good composition of the various esthetic elements.

The sounds from the pit remain interesting. I like this opera a lot so far.

Dramatic intensity increases in the confrontation about the book being a fraud. Lan trembles. She cries "No" out loud with long ornamentations. Well done, Ms. Lundy.

Impressive percussion matching Ms. Lundy's coloratura in the next sequence, all very beautiful.

Percussionists continue to work with the water, and now add paper. Lights dim. End of first act.

Taking advantage of the break, let me add Tan Dun's description of the various musical elements and characters and their meanings:

Seikyo symbolizes discovery and philosophy. Lan if for love. The Chinese Prince expresses anger. The Emperor is there for tradition and culture. Lu is the messenger for the spirit. The monks represent religion. The three percussionists playing with water, paper, and ceramic symbolize nature. The orchestra is for drama.

The lights come back on an empty bluish set. Monks walk silently in, from the left side. The three female percussionists are positioned in a triangular way. They start to manipulate paper. Humming from the orchestra. Sounds and lighting suggest night outdoors with chirps of nocturnal animals, instrumentalists flip their score sheets causing sounds like flapping of wings. The monks lay down and sleep. Seikyo and Lan walk in. She sings with delicacy and acts well. Again, he sings well too but can't match her acting, remains somewhat unengaged, and shows less chemistry to her than she shows to him. On the other hand, she is Love, he is Philosophy so maybe his reserved stance is done in purpose.

This is the scene you can see on the cover picture. The monks sit up. The lovers embrace. The monks walk away, then circle the lovers. Forest sounds from the orchestra intensify. This scene is very, very beautiful, musically and visually. Great second act.

Now we get the percussion on ceramics. Beautiful. Lu comes back, in yellow. The lighting now is yellow and blue.

Interesting. Death is defined as "the place of always returning." Very Buddhist.

Dramatic tension explodes in the music, both instrumental and vocal, for the last scene. All three protagonists do well in this scene, Lundy, Gillett, and Fu, with dramatic flair, and all three voices engage correctly. Percussion dominates the sounds, it is all very tense. Lan gets wounded, the orchestra silences, Seikyo yells "No", she sings passionately, dying, with very beautiful melody. Her voice is pungent, soars, laments, weakens, dies. Very effective. Even Fu gets some emotions on his face.

The orchestra turns omiinous. The chorus laments, Greek tragedy-wise. Ms. Liang sings - well this time. It is interesting to see how all singers, even the weakest links, seem to react well to Tan Dun's music and get into character and into voice. The emperor sings a tearful aria with great grief. "Together we play monkey king. Without you life is living death."

"To live in death, to die for life, how will we choose?" says Lu.

The scene when Seikyo refuses to decapitate the Prince and cuts his own hair instead is very effective too, with a swift movement. The orchestra turns tonal and melodious. Fu sings impressively. Loud percussion. Darkness. Water dripping.

We're back to Japan, ten years later. The visual configuration is the same of the opening scene. "What a bitter silence," sings Seikyo.

The orchestra responds by slow intensification of the sounds, rhythmic and melodious. "Though the bowl is empty, scent grows. Though shadow is gone, dream grows. Growing tea is hard, dream grows. Picking tea is harder. Savoring tea is the hardest." Water, paper sounds. "Tea, a mirror of soul" says Seikyo. Paper, water, wind. Darkness. Silence.

The end. Phenomenal ovation.

Fascinating. Highly recommended. A+

Bonus: we get Tan Dun performing with his instruments. Stone drumming.Two ceramic stones (sounds are very interesting. Very. Worth seeing. Then, water cadenza 1 and 2, performed by a young man. Both very good. Ceramic music is next, performed by several people, including Tan Dun (ferociously hitting three sheets of paper), a compelling piece of contemporary music.

Then we see part of his multi-media cello concert, The Map, 5th movement, very beautiful. Except that it sells on Amazon.com for - gasp - $999.99!!!

Well, this Tea goes for $29.31, fortunately. [clicky (http://www.amazon.com/Tan-Dun-Richardson-Symphony-Orchestra/dp/B0002UNQGI/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1336897318&sr=1-1)]

My admiration for this composer has increased after seeing this DVD.

May 16th, 2012, 04:07 AM
Has anybody here viewed this version of Antikrist by Langgaard?


Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
May 16th, 2012, 11:48 AM
I *can* see it since it is part of the Naxos online collection to which I have access, but I haven't yet, and I seem to remember reading bad things about it.

May 16th, 2012, 06:32 PM

François - José van Dam
The Angel - Dawn Upshaw
The Leper - Chris Merrit
Brother Léon - Urban Malmberg

Conductor: Kent Nagano

Wonderful, meditated and accurate reading of the score from Nagano, with a very inspired orchestra. Van Dam was no longer the singer he was in the 1980s, but he offers a very poetic approach to the character. Instead of presenting a great human being in which saintliness is growing, he chooses to sing a Saint embodied in a doleful man, keeping some distance, almost on the verge of skepticism.

Listening to Dawn Upshaw, one arrives to the same conclusion than the libretto: "C'était peut-être un Ange" (maybe this was an Angel). Merrit's Leper, instead of neurological problems or leprosy was sung in the manner of a drug abuser missing his daily dose. Great work from the singers playing the Monks.

Overall: A, recommended for all Opera lovers.

Was the cast of this CD associated with any staging? The picture on the album sleeve looks like Sellars, but Salonen conducted that. I know Nagano did it at Bavaria State last year staged by Hermann Nitsch, but I did not know there was a recording.

May 16th, 2012, 07:09 PM
This was recorded live at Szalburg Festival, in 1998. Sellar's original production in 1992 was revived for the occasion.

Nagano was the assistant of Ozawa at the times of Saint François's premiere, and he studied the score directly with Messiaen. This was his second recording of the opera, as he also recorded a concert performance in Utrecht for the KRO label.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
June 2nd, 2012, 03:01 PM
In anticipation of our upcoming in-person interview with contralto Jana Sýkorová scheduled to happen in Prague on July 4, 2012, I'll be reviewing her DVD of Laurent Petitgirard's contemporary opera about the real story of The Elephant Man, born with horrifying deformities, who was also the subject of a 1980 film by David Lynch. Ms. Sýkorová sings the title role.


The opera supposedly is more faithful to Joseph Merrick's life than David Lynch's movie, since the latter was based on an account by the patient's doctor, who according to Laurent Petitgirard had a propensity for portraying himself (Dr. Treves) in a good light, while in real life he was exposing his patient without his consent as a medical curiosity.

Laurent Petitgirard is a contemporary composer born in 1950. He is also a pianist and conductor, and here he conducts his own opera. He has had an acclaimed career in film music, and from 1989 to 1996 he was the music director of the Orchestre Symphonique Français. He has conducted other prestigious orchestras, including La Fenice and Paris Opéra where he conducted several operas, and he is a regular guest at the Berliner Philharmoniker. His recording of Mozart's Requiem had more than one million copies sold. This is his first opera. It won the SACD Music Prize in May 2001. He has earned several accolades including being appointed Commander in the French Order of Arts and Letters.


Jana Sýkorová, born in 1973, is the leading contralto with the Prague State Opera since 1999, and also a permanent guest at the National Theatre in Prague and the National Theatre in Brno. Unlike in America, in Prague opera singers are permanent employees of a company, which explains why the bulk of her activity has been in her home country. With the company, she has performed numerous roles in Carmen, Rigoletto, Nabucco, Madama Butterfly, The Devil and Kate, Orlando Furioso, Un Ballo in Maschera, Béatrice et Bénédict, etc. Internationally, she has had her debut with the Royal Opera House (Covent Garden) in the roles of Maddalena; and Mercedes in Carmen. She appeared in Die Walküre at the Wagner Festival Wels in 2000 and 2001. She created the role of Joseph Merrick the Elephant Man in its premiere in Prague, and took it to Nice for its revival, which is the performance preserved on this DVD.

Laurent Petitgirard wrote the title role for a contralto because he particularly likes the tonal quality of the contralto voice, and because he wanted to create a sense of strange otherness. His goal was to depict in his opera not only the duality between Merrick's inner self and his physical appearance, but also the theme of exclusion. This man was misunderstood and humiliated by others, both in Tom Norman's freak sideshow, and at the London Hospital. For the composer, Joseph Merrick becomes a mirror in which we perceive our own fear of that which is different, and then a man with whom we can all identify. Eric Nonn the librettist based the plot on the genuine tragic life story of Joseph Merrick who died in 1890 at age 27.

The work on the opera began in May 1995 and was finished in December 1998. It was first recorded in Monte Carlo in May-June of 1999. The first staging was in Prague in February 2002, and the production transferred to Nice the following November. Director Daniel Mesguich's staging further developed the issue of duality. Jane Sýkorová's acclaimed performance was said to meet the vocal and acting challenges of such an ambiguous role quite superbly.



Joseph Merrick dit Elephant Man - Opera in 4 acts (20 scenes), sung in French
Music by Laurent Petitgirard
Libretto by Eric Nonn

Available on Naxos / Marco Polo DVD released in 2004, filmed live at Nice Opera on November 29, 2002.
Co-production with OSF Productions, Investimo, L'Opéra de Nice, and François Roussillon Associates


Amazon.com link for the DVD (temporarily out of stock - $29.99 - but available from marketplace vendors for $13.64 new and $11.42 used): [clicky (http://www.amazon.com/Laurent-Petitgirard-Joseph-Merrick-Elephant/dp/B000683ZYY/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1338649646&sr=1-1)]

DVD9, NTSC, 16:9, Regions 1 through 6, Dolby Digital 2.0 only, Running time 2:46:53, no extras
In French; subtitles in French, English, and German.
Insert: credits, short essay by the composer in English, French, and German; biography of the composer in English only; three production photos in black and white, list of scenes with characters but not with listed durations.

Nice Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Laurent Petitgirard
Nice Opera Chorus under master Giulio Magnanini
Stage director Daniel Mesguich
Set and costumes Frédéric Pineau
Lighting Patrick Méeüs


Elephant Man, Jana Sýkorová, contralto
Doctor Treves, Nicolas Rivenq, baritone
Tom Norman the showman, Robert Breault, tenor
Mary the nurse, Valérie Condoluci, soprano
Eva Lükes, a matron, Elsa Maurus, mezzo
Carr Gomm the hospital manager, Nicolas Courjal, bass
The Colorature, Magali Léger, coloratura soprano
Jimmy, the showman's assistant, Mari Laurila-Lili, trebble

A young girl, Liesel Jürgens, soprano
First boy, Gilles San Juan, tenor
Second boy, Bernard Imbert, baritone
Father, Eric Ferri, baritone
First lady, Corinee Parenti, soprano
Second lady, Cristina Greco, mezzo


First impressions:

The image on DVD is just correct, with frequent focus problems. The DD 2.0 sound is good and clear, with good balance between orchestra and singers. It's a traditional staging with costumes depicting late 19th century prevailing attire in London. Sets are appropriately dark, bleak, and smoky. Pace is slow, and the opening scenes seem a bit overlong. Singing so far is of very good quality. Tenor Robert Breault is quite dominant in the opening scenes, and his singing is powerful, with flawless top. He is a good and convincing actor too. Supporting roles, orchestra and chorus do well.

Musically speaking, this opera seems rewarding. The writing for the chorus is quite melodious, and the written-through orchestral music is very atmospheric (likely a reflection of the composer's background in film music). Video direction captures well both the full stage action and facial expressions. Use of the (smallish) Nice Opera stage with the flow of movements is smart, with different levels of platforms, and Tom Norman climbing on top of the Elephant Man's cage. Nice lighting too, mostly in yellow and blue, with efficient use of the Elephant Man's shadow on a canvas.

This is obviously a good production by Nice Opera, preserved on DVD with very good camera work.

Mari Laurila-Lili has a very small voice and tends to disappear among the other singers. Baritone Nicolas Rivenq does not have great volume either. The first act is over so we won't be seeing the Tom Norman character any longer, and I'll miss excellent tenor Robert Breault. Yes, the first act is too long, could have used some cuts and a more compact libretto.

Ms. Sýkorová hasn't started singing yet, I can't wait.

Act II switches to the interior of the hospital, with very nice stagecraft (the sets pivot 360 degrees to show the interior of the hospital facade from Act I; great period costume for the nurse; very interesting depiction of the patient's room, in smaller scale than everything else. This is good staging!

The second act starts much stronger than the first one, both in terms of vocal music, and pace. Jana Sýkorová starts singing, and oh yes, she *is* great! Valéry Condoluci is also very convincing as Mary the nurse (and she is a good-looking lady - also depicted on the DVD cover). Their scene together is very touching and well acted and staged. The chorus of hospital patients is impressive.

This is definitely a contemporary opera that can please opera lovers of all kinds, thanks to its very melodious choral music, which contrasts well with the more modern-sounding vocal lines - a very efficient device to convey the fragmented and tragic nature of the story, plus the pathos and compassion of the observing public (here symbolized by the chorus).

Another good singer makes his entrance, bass Nicolas Courjal. By the way, Nicolas Rivenq seems to have warmed up his voice, and is singing very well in the second act.

Second act is over, and it was a very good one.

The third one opens with a chorus and the obligatory anachronism (why do stage directors think they have to do it?) with a female photographer in modern clothes snapping pictures with a modern camera, together with two other photographers in period clothing - but also with modern cameras). I find act III again a bit overlong and dragging, with a certain monotony in the musical accompaniment. Sýkorová sings beautifully, though.

Act IV starting, with a beautiful prelude for strings. Then we get the L'air de la colorature which is satirical and over the top in nature, and they surely got a very shrill soprano to sing it which characters on stage gringe and block their ears.

Reading a bit of the biography of the real Elephant Man, some of these scenes are a bit far-fetched in order to get more dramatic impact. Unlike what the composer says in his essay, from reading other sources it does look like was actually a benefactor and helped the real Mr. Merrick quite a lot. So, certain scenes seem a bit manicheistic (the evil doctors who expose the patient in a continuation of the freak show, just this time inside the hospital - the compassionate nurse, etc. - characters are depicted with strong colors but don't develop much). While the opera character Elephant Man seems dismayed and frightened with the attention, in real life it does look like the patient appreciated being visited by noblemen and royalty. This libretto is a bit lachrimose, always depicting the Elephant Man as depressed and suffering, with the singer's eyes being always sad ones. In real life Mr. Merrick seems to have had several happy moments as well, and the opera would have grown in depth if these were depicted too. The way it is, there isn't much emotional range for the singing actress since only one mood is kept all the time.

My initial excellent opinion of this opera is sliding down a bit - the theme of exploitation does get old, and the music itself seems to not evolve a lot between the acts. Definitely, instead of almost three hours, this opera would benefit from some 1h 45' of running time, with a more compact libretto. There are pacing problems as well, as noted above. For a first effort by the composer, however, it is good enough, being the music superior to the libretto in my opinion. One thing that is not to be questioned, though, is Ms. Sýkorová's great vocal performance!

In the last act there is a clever device - a doppleganger - an extra wearing the same make-up comes to the stage and we get two Elephant Men - and while one is laying down, fatigued, and being cared after by the doctor, the other one sings and expresses the emotions.

Strange: Ms. Sýkorová didn't smile at all during the curtain calls. She seemed actually unwell. I wonder if the layers of make-up and the Elephant Man costume were hot and heavy and in the almost three hours of this opera she was exhausted and dehydrated. It's something to ask her when we interview her.

Verdict: as an opera, B (in spite of generally good music, it gets down a notch due to pacing problems, longueurs, and a sort of repetitious libretto with meager character development and too much focus on only one mood tone). As a staging and DVD rendition of it, A, and as a vocal performance from the leading lady, A+. Overall, somewhere between A- and B+, therefore a recommended buy.

June 2nd, 2012, 03:36 PM
Ms. Sykorova's performance was really great, particularly the harrowing way she sings the last lines in this scene:


Pitié pour moi, Seigneur……………………Have pity, My Lord
Mes os sont bouleversés……………………My bones are wrecked
Mon âme est bouleversé……………………My sould is wrecked
Pitié por moi, Seigneur……………………..Have pity, My Lord
Je suis sans force…………………………..I don't have any strength left

really gets deep into you.

June 10th, 2012, 02:57 AM
Hans Werner Henze (born 1926), L'Upupa und der Triumph der Sohnesliebe (The Hoopoe and the Triumph of Filial Love), (premiered August 2003). Libretto by Henze himself.


Matthias Goerne, Laura Aikin, John Mark Ainsley, Alfred Muff, Axel Köhler. Wiener Staatsopernchor, Wiener Philharmoniker, Markus Stenz, directed for stage by Dieter Dorn.

Every now and then I would try out some contemporary opera for a bit of "spice". L'Upupa was Henze's Magic Flute: the protagonist goes to search for a golden bird (a hoopoe) following his father's request to do so, and along the way the devil comes along to help him but he needs to pass some tests, falls in love with a woman, survives an attempt on his live but (unless I have misunderstood the plot), remains unresolved whether he could live with the woman he loves. All this with some magic thrown in here and there.

Typical of many contemporary operas that I have listened, this opera contained no arias that you would remember after viewing. Its use of 12-tone and orchestral effects were more interesting than the vocal parts. At best I thought the vocal parts were supporting the orchestral lines (like much of 12-tone operas often do to me anyway). As Henze already wrote over a dozen operas by the time L'Upupa was written, he probably already have much experience with operatic material like this. Fine singing from tenor John Mark Ainsley playing the devil looking almost unrecognisable (an early music tenor often singing Handel), and the other singers.

This DVD production was the original premiere production performed and recorded in Salzburg August 2003. The staging was not extreme avant-garde, but given its plot, it could easily have been done on a more "traditional" staging. It was generally effective.

One for contemporary opera fans.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
June 10th, 2012, 04:30 AM
Yes, it's a good one. I own this DVD and I think I've reviewed it somewhere. Schigolch is a fan too.

June 10th, 2012, 09:34 AM
I watched this live at Teatro Real, some ten years ago. It was a big success, performed to a full house, and with a lasting, standing ovation at the end of the opera for singers, conductor and even stage director.


June 17th, 2012, 12:39 AM
Anybody here care to comment about operas by Carl Orff (1895-1982), in particular some these DVDs (from the Wergo Carl Orff DVD Series)? I'm thinking of trying out just one or two, not sure which ones.




June 17th, 2012, 07:16 AM


3NaOH + H3PO3 -->Na3PO4+3H2O

June 17th, 2012, 11:52 AM
Anybody here care to comment about operas by Carl Orff (1895-1982), in particular some these DVDs (from the Wergo Carl Orff DVD Series)? I'm thinking of trying out just one or two, not sure which ones.

I'd go for "Gisei", that is by far the rarest opera of the three, and the only recording available, to the best of my knowledge. Wergo and the Darmstad Staatstheater are doing a fine job about those Orff's operas. Of course "Gisei" is a piece from a very young Orff, and it can be musically a bit disappointing, unless you are keen on Orff. The production is fine, I've watched this DVD just a few days ago.

About the other two operas, there are others, and I'd say more interesting, alternatives.

June 17th, 2012, 11:35 PM
Thanks. Gisei it is then. It reads interesting enough. I found some marketing blurb about it, with "lavish costumes" (being a sucker for lavish productions):-

Gisei is set in the year 902 in a village school in Japan and is about the sacrificial death of a child. Both the subject and Japanese culture greatly inspired the young Carl Orff, and he remained an aficionado of Japan all his life. In the Japanese tragedies, Orff also found numerous references to the ancient Greek tragedies by Sophocles with which he concerned himself decades later.

This DVD shows the world premiere production by John Dew (who was recently awarded the Carl Orff Prize 2012) at the Darmstadt State Theatre. Lavish costumes as well as carefully rehearsed facial expressions and gestures convey a deep impression of this tragedy. The following 15-minute bonus film includes interesting additional information on Orff's oeuvre and particularly on his work on Gisei.

June 18th, 2012, 02:40 AM
Ooh, I'm really going for Gisei and Atigonae!

July 10th, 2012, 05:49 PM

Philip Glass:

In the Penal Colony
One Act Opera
Libretto by Rudolph Wurlitzer based on Franz Kafka

Michael Bennett, the Visitor
Omar Ebrahim, the Officer

The Music Theatre Wales Ensemble
Michael Rafferty, conductor

Scored for string quintet and two singers, and based of the story by Kakfa, this is indeed a rather dull and boring piece. Yes, it's unmistakably Glass's, but even from a man that made repetition and recycle of the material the core of his musical style, I think this is a step too much.

The musicians and the singers are fine.

Overall: C-, for Glass's die-hard fans, only.


August 17th, 2012, 10:53 AM
Philip Glass, Kepler (2009, premiered 2010)


Glass wrote three operas dedicated to historical scientific figures. Johannes Kepler was one of them, and the subject of this opera. Libretto was in German and some Latin. The music was very accessible, and Glass-sounding, with extensive use of the chorus as a force in itself to drive the drama, and the underlying moods of Kepler himself, which was more or less effective for a plot without much of intrigues, love, murder, forgiveness, etc. that you might be acustomed to with the majority of operas ever written. The staging was modern despite the depiction of a 16th to 17th century historical figure by a new contemporary opera (how's that for irony)! Well sung, well paced and played for its premiere performance and recording. My only reservation would be for the libretto and plot, for it was rather static, more like a semi-dramatic portrait of Kepler's thoughts and challenges concerning astrology and astronomy. But as my first experience of a Glass opera, I thought I enjoyed it.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
September 6th, 2012, 01:02 AM
Unsuk Chin: Alice in the Wonderland on DVD


I will be publishing a short review for this one, not my usually detailed one.

This is a 2007 contemporary opera by acclaimed South Korean female composer Unsuk Chin. This production is from the Bayerische Staatsoper with a rather perfect cast of perfectly unknown singers, all very good (Sally Matthews as Alice is particularly good and so are many of her male counterparts), with the house orchestra playing well under the excellent conducting of Kent Nagano. Stage direction and set design are by Achim Freyer. Very imaginative and interesting costumes, masks, and puppets are by Nina Weitzner. Regrettably silly video direction (with the oh-so-outdated technique of shaky handheld camera and idiotic smart-aleck tricks like filming out of focus, and excessive use of close-ups making it hard to follow the imaginative staging) is by Ellen Fellmann, a name to be avoided in the future. My oh my, why can't video directors just show the staging with a panoramic image and the occasional close-up to highlight a detail? Why have they lately been trying to get smart, with usually disastrous results???

The sets are sleek, interesting, using a tilted wall and good lighting. There is the inevitable Regie nod of placing on two of the masks depicting two old man, semi-erect penises in place of noses. OK, we all know that Alice in the Wonderland has psychoanalytical symbolism, but that was totally unnecessary. The obligatory grotesque image is also provided, when one of the puppets representing a cook has big shriveled droopy breasts. Fortunately that's about all in terms of the mandatory Regie touches out of Munich. Everything else is rather tasteful.

The opera itself is rather excellent. Unsuk Chin's music fits *perfectly* the story and is wildly creative. The libretto follows rather closely Lewis Carroll's text, preserving the linguistic puns (sung in English, with English, German, French, and Spanish optional subtitles).

Technically this Unitel Classica / Medici Arts product is rather impeccable, with such good quality of image (filmed in HD, 16:9, all regions, running time 123 minutes) and sound (DTS 5.1 is available, as well as DD 5.1 and LPCM stereo) that it isn't too far from a blu-ray. Chapter listing with characters and duration as well as a brief essay are provided in the insert. The essay is short - 3 pages - but rather focused and complete, since it does address Unsuk Chin's musical style, the staging concept, the libretto and the original source. No extras.

Overall, B+, recommended (the imbecile video direction prevents it from reaching A territory, as well as the two silly Regie components).

To the opera itself I'd give an A, highly recommended for lovers of contemporary music, but also quite accessible to the non-initiated.

Here is the link to this product's sale point at Amazon.com, for $27:

September 6th, 2012, 02:30 AM
This is one occasion when the YouTube version discouraged me from buying the DVD. I had it in my Presto Classical basket, watched about 40 minutes on YouTube, got livid with the video director and had to switch it off, as the anger was overhwelming the pleasure from the music and production. If I were Chin or Freyer I'd sue.

September 6th, 2012, 03:51 AM
Interesting views about Chin's Alice in the Wonderland. It is one that I am thinking about buying at some stage. "The weird stuff", just wait for the sale that comes every now and then.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
September 8th, 2012, 09:16 PM
Menotti - Help, Help, the Globolinks! on DVD


This is another opera for children by Menotti, sometimes performed in double bill with his Amahl, since both are short - Help, Help is 70 minutes long while Amahl is under one hour.

It premiered in Hamburg in December 1968, sung in German although it was written in English. Then seven months later it premiered in the United States at Santa Fe Opera in English version. The libretto is by the composer and is not based on any other source.

This DVD is a studio film using the same cast and props of the Hamburg State Opera world premiere, also sung in German. It was done in 1969 for television, and now it's been released on DVD. Stage direction was by Menotti himself. The Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra was conducted by Matthias Kuntzsch.

This ArtHaus Musik 2007 release has old-fashioned but very sharp color image in 4:3 format, region code zero (worldwide); the sound is PCM mono, and there are optional subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian. A very good insert with a long essay is provided, talking in great detail about the opera, the staging, and Menotti's music.

The very excellent cast includes Edith Mathis as Emily, a great Arlene Saunders as the funny Mme. Euterpova, Raymond Wolansky as Dr. Stone, William Workman as Tony, Kurt Marschner as Timothy, Ursula Boese as Miss Penelope Newkirk, Franz Grundheber as Mr. Lavender-Gas, and Noël Mangin as Dr. Turtlespit.

The Ballet of the Hamburg State Opera provides the Globolinks (silent roles).

Well, this is a curious Sci-Fi opera, and the film of it is like one of those B movies. The plot is simple: extraterrestrials called Globolinks invade Earth and try to turn the population into Globolinks by touching them. At the touch of one of the creatures, the human loses the capacity to speak and sing, and becomes a Globolink in 24 hours. The only way to defeat them is that they hate music, and run scared when someone plays an instrument. They disable and attack a school activity bus that is bringing back to school a number of children who play various instruments in the band. However the children have left their instruments behind, except for Emily the violinist. So she leaves the bus behind and goes to school to fetch help, while playing her violin to keep the creatures at bay. The Globolinks manage to turn the principal into one of them. The Music Teacher fights back, etc. The creatures manage to steal and break Emily's violin, but the Music Teacher arrives with the Band and rescues her, to a happy ending.

The Globolinks are underlined in the score by electronic atonal music. This opera was for Gian Carlo Menotti a way to express his preoccupation with the possibility that modern atonal and electronic music might kill off traditional diatonic music.

As a children's opera, this work is less accomplished than Amahl and the Night Visitors, and much less impressive than Menotti's big hits The Consul and The Medium. Still, it's enjoyable.

This vintage production is curious and interesting.

B, recommended.

Available from Amazon.com for $27, and from Amazon marketplace vendors for $14.


Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
September 13th, 2012, 04:37 AM
I've just realized through Nat's participation in another thread that Achim Freyer who directed the Alice in the Wonderland production reviewed above was also the stage director for the disastrous LA Ring.

September 13th, 2012, 05:45 AM

He's VERY keen on bobbleheads.

September 18th, 2012, 07:55 PM
Dialogues des Carmélites (Poulenc)


Before watching this DVD I had only a vague conception of what Dialogues des Carmélites was about. I had heard the EMI recording with Denise Duval, Regine Crespin and Rita Gorr once, but I only knew that it was something about nuns that get executed in the end. So, I felt kind of a virgin when I began to watch this performance. And I'm afraid my whole credibility as someone capable of making relevant comments about opera may be at stake here.

Firstly, I'm going to describe my very own feelings about the opera and the performance at hand.

1. This must be the only opera where they sing about a flatiron.

2. It contains the most gripping death scene I have seen in an opera, not meaning the ending where all the remaining nuns are guillotined, but the death of the old prioress of the convent. Here we are very far from Mimì and Violetta, really watching someone in her death throes, even doubting her own faith and predicting the fate of the convent. As if she was not suffering enough, we have a stupid doctor who refuses more medication with the excuse that the patient's body couldn't tolerate it! Well, as if he would have been sued for malpractise overdosing a nun during the French revolution...

3. The music. It's kind of endless and constantly changing melody, always at the service of the words. So, there are no arias to speak of until the end, where the new prioress' "Mes filles, j'ai désiré de tout mon cœur" at least begins like one, but even it just ends in midair. That said, the music is quite easy on the ear, very Poulenc-like, and it must have sounded already rather oldfashioned in the fifties, when it was composed. All the better for us, I think.

4. The performance is from the Staatsoper Hamburg, 2008. I don't think you could wish for a better one, or expect another one on DVD any time soon. The conductor is Simone Young, the stage director Nikolaus Lehnhoff, both good. Blanche, the principal role, is sung by Alexia Voulgaridou - very good. But Kathryn Harries as the dying prioress really took my breath away. I have now watched her death scene four times and the magic hasn't diminished at all. Sister Constance, Jana Büchner, with her clear soprano, is just as joyful vocally as her role demands. The rest of the cast doesn't let us down either. The sets are modern and simple and I think that this is a better solution than any attempt to try something gothic, e.g. The nuns' habits and headware are traditional, but go well with the graphic surroundings.

---This is the end of my personal impressions ---

Since this does not belong to your run-of-the-mill repertoire, a synopsis would be in order. In spite of the fact that Wikipedia describes the opera having two acts (when Kobbé and Viking and the leaflet accompanying the DVD tell that it has three!) I copy the plot from there.

The pathologically timid Blanche de la Force decides to retreat from the world and enter a Carmelite convent. The Mother Superior informs her that the Carmelite order is not a refuge: it is the duty of the nuns to guard the Order, not the other way around. In the convent, the jolly Sister Constance tells Blanche (to her consternation) that she has had a dream that the two of them will die young together. The Mother Superior, who is dying, commits Blanche to the care of Mother Marie. The Mother Superior passes away in great agony, shouting in her delirium that despite her long years of service to God, He has abandoned her. Blanche and Mother Marie, who witness her death, are shaken.

Sister Constance remarks to Blanche that the Mother Superior's death seemed unworthy of her, and speculates that she had been given the wrong death, as one might be given the wrong coat in a cloakroom. Perhaps someone else will find death surprisingly easy. Perhaps we die not for ourselves alone, but for each other. Blanche's brother, the Chevalier de la Force, arrives to announce that their father thinks Blanche should withdraw from the convent, since she is not safe there (being a member of both the nobility and a religious congregation). Blanche refuses, saying that she has found happiness in the Carmelite order, but later admits to Mother Marie that it is fear (or the fear of fear itself, as the Chevalier expresses it) that keeps her from leaving.

The chaplain announces that he has been forbidden to preach (presumably for being a non-juror under the Civil Constitution of the Clergy). The nuns remark on how fear now governs the country, and no one has the courage to stand up for the priests. Sister Constance asks, "Are there no men left to come to the aid of the country?" "When priests are lacking, martyrs are superabundant," replies the new Mother Superior. Mother Marie says that the Carmelites can save France by giving their lives, but the Mother Superior corrects her: it is not permitted to become a martyr voluntarily; martyrdom is a gift from God. A police officer announces that the Legislative Assembly has nationalized the convent and its property, and the nuns must give up their habits. When Mother Marie acquiesces, the officer taunts her for being eager to dress like everyone else. She replies that the nuns will continue to serve, no matter how they are dressed. "The people has no need of servants," proclaims the officer haughtily. "No, but it has a great need for martyrs," responds Mother Marie. "In times like these, death is nothing," he says. "Life is nothing," she answers, "when it is so debased." In the absence of the new Mother Superior, Mother Marie proposes that the nuns take a vow of martyrdom. However, all must agree, or Mother Marie will not insist. A secret vote is held; there is one dissenting voice. Sister Constance declares that she was the dissenter, and that she has changed her mind, so the vow can proceed. Blanche runs away from the convent, and Mother Marie finds her in her father's library. Her father has been guillotined, and Blanche has been forced to serve her former servants. The nuns are all arrested and condemned to death, but Mother Marie is away (with Blanche, presumably) at the time. The chaplain tells Mother Marie that since God has chosen to spare her, she cannot now voluntarily become a martyr by joining the others in prison. The nuns (one by one) slowly march to the scaffold, singing Salve Regina. At the last minute, Blanche appears, to Constance's joy; but as she mounts the scaffold, Blanche changes the hymn to Deo patri sit gloria (All praise be thine, O risen Lord).

--- And where did I get it all wrong? ---

I thought that everything was about faith. According to The Viking Opera Guide it's about fear. Well, I can understand that both the aristocracy and the church had reason enough to be afraid during the revolution, but in my humble opinion the faith transcends the fear here. What I also failed to notice is that Poulenc had a vocal counterpart in his mind for the principal characters, namely Amneris (Mother Marie), Desdemona (the new Prioress), Kundry (the old Prioress), Thaïs (Blanche) and Zerlina (Constance). I'm not aware of where this information is based on, just read the book. Furthermore, all have leitmotifs of their own - and me not noticing anything! There is more: the fear is typified by a rising minor third, which we allegedly hear throughout the work, culminating in the final scene, where the nuns are singing Salve Regina over repeated minor thirds, conquering their fear when facing their death. I mean that I know what intervals are, but I don't recognize them while I'm listening to the music.

This leaves me very humble, but I think it's only fair that you know, that I am not able to analyze music in any great depths. I can tell what I see and hear and whether I like it or not, but it's not necessarily the whole story.

September 18th, 2012, 09:16 PM
Dialogues is one of my favorite operas.

I do think there are two better versions, in terms of staging, on the market, namely:

Robert Carsen's:


Marthe Keller's:


Lehnhoff's staging is quite good, anyway.

The opera, with a libretto by Poulenc himself, it's based on a great play by Georges Bernanos (funningly based itself on a rather weak novella, on the real subject of the murder of several nuns from a convent at Compiègne, during the Terror), and the subject both Bernanos and Poulenc had foremost in mind was the mistery of Grace. It relates the internal fight of Blanche, torn between her fears and her duty, and her final victory over herself. A matter of faith, as you were pointing out. The vocal counterparts are true, this information comes from Poulenc himself, in his correspondance.

There are indeed motifs, many of them very subtle. Perhaps my favorite is the motif usually named as "Serenity" that sounds at the end of the first scene, when Blanche finish her plea to her father, and then again at the very end of the opera.

When the opera was premiered (in Italian) in 1957 at La Scala, it received a good response from the audience, but not so good from some critics, that were expecting something more 'experimental'. However, Poulenc was convinced that 'my poor nuns can only sing within tonality'. Today, the Dialogues are fully part of the repertory.

What a great opera!.

September 18th, 2012, 09:24 PM
I think it's the Robert Carsen version with the most brilliantly staged final scene - the nuns are arranged in a grid on the stage; and they collapse one at a time with each stroke of the guillotine (which of course you can hear clearly in the music). Absolutely chilling.

September 18th, 2012, 09:28 PM
Carsen's staging is great. I've watched live on theater and it's really a very, very moving experience.


On the other hand, the other two mentioned in the posts above, are also quite good. I can't condone, however, Mr. Tcherniakov's approach.


September 20th, 2012, 07:17 PM
Another old review.


For my first review of this new year I have chosen a Finnish opera, sung in Finnish: Punainen viiva or The Red Line by Aulis Sallinen. L'Amour de Loin by Saariaho made it to our 100 list, but it was in French from the start. The Red Line was premiered in 1978 and I saw it a little later with Jorma Hynninen singing the role of Topi, as he does here in amazingly good voice - after 30 years!

The composer adapted Ilmari Kianto's novel of the same name for the libretto. The opera tells about the personal tragedy of the poor family of Topi and Riika, but also about the year 1907, when the first parliamentary elections were held in Finland, where it was possible for women both to vote and seek candidacy (19 female members were elected), socialism was beginning to spread, but Finland was still part of the Imperial Russia. The name of the opera refers to the practice then used of drawing a red line on the list of candidates you wished to support, although you could also order the list by numbering the names according your preferences.

In the beginning Topi and Riika deplore their poverty and reminisce the happier days of their youth, Riika having served as a maid in a great manor, Topi as a logger, when he got at least proper bread to eat, not the kind made mixing tree-bark with the grains. Now they have three children, but not shoes for them for the winter, and the grain bins are empty. Topi leaves to the nearest village to sell some game he has hunted and buy flour. There he goes to a meeting, where he hears of the coming elections. Meanwhile, a wandering peddler visits Riika and tells of unrest in Russia. A further meeting is arranged, where a socialist agitator tells of a possible change of the world order and urges people to use their right to vote. The elections come and go, but Topi's and Riika's children get sick and die. Ultimately even Topi dies struggling with a bear that has attacked their only cow.

The composer himself, interviewed in the extras, tells that The Red Line is close to music theatre, and there are pure speaking parts. In this new production, a dance group is also added to the performance. Topi's and Riika's soliloquies may have some resemblance to arias, but otherwise the singing is very much extended speaking. Listening and watching this after so many years, I find that it was much easier for me to listen contemporary music as a young man. The most beautiful music here is the orchestral epilogue after the death of the children in the end.

As I already mentioned, Jorma Hynninen is still impressive. I wish I could say the same of the Riika of Päivi Nisula, but I can't. She is not easy listening. Aki Alamikkotervo as the agitator, Puntarpää, is good. So is Hannu Forsberg's Simana Arhippaini, the peddler. The orchestra and chorus of the Finnish National Opera, conducted by Mikko Franck, are as good as could be wished for. The production is much more modern than that I saw 30 years ago, directed by Pekka Milonoff - mainly known here from the spoken theatre.

I can't imagine what kind of impression this work would make among foreign friends of opera, although it has been performed even at the Met. The soprano here doesn't make it any easier.

September 21st, 2012, 10:26 PM
To buy or not to buy? Has anyone view/listened to these two?

Walter Braunfels (1882-1954), Die Vögel (1920)


John Adams (born 1947), El Niño (opera-oratorio, 2000)


Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
September 22nd, 2012, 10:29 AM
Dialogues is a very, very beautiful opera. This is a very good CD of it:


September 22nd, 2012, 10:27 PM
Poulenc had a special affection for Denise Duval, who sings Blanche.

September 23rd, 2012, 07:48 AM
And Denise for Poulenc, too. About the role of Blanche she said:

"J’ai porté Blanche autant que Blanche m’a portée. Et j’ai comme l’impréssion que Francis me l’a donnée pour que je me reconnaisse".

October 15th, 2012, 11:06 AM

Salvatore Sciarrino: Luci mie traditrici.

Nina Tarandek (La Malaspina)
Christian Miedl (Il Malaspina)
Roland Schneider (L’Ospite)
Simon Bode (Un Servo).

Ensemble Algoritmo.
Marco Angius, conductor
Christian Pade, stage director
Giancarlo Matcovich, producer

We have commented in this same thread some CD versions of Sciarrino's masterpiece, including the audio release of this one, the weakest of the three available, in my view.

Now, we have also the possibility of watching the DVD. I was not impressed by the staging, a very far cry from Rebecca Horn's poetic and elusive production. Here even the more abstract passages in the score of Sciarrino are depicted in a more immediate way, with the two main characters playing with fans as a rather failed intent to suggest a different language, and introduce the audience in a parallel world.

Musically speaking, I also prefer the approach of the Klangforum Wien or Tito Cecherini's ensemble. The singers are adequate, nonetheless.

Overall: B-


October 22nd, 2012, 09:33 AM
Laurent Petitgirard (born 1950), Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man (2002)


From a production conducted by the composer himself, which at the very least, we can be assured of following the composer's intentions! Sung in French, libretto by Eric Nonn.

This DVD has already been reviewed by Almaviva. I do not have that much more to add. An intriguing subject for an opera, which was what got my attention. The plot was somewhat one dimensional, but perhaps intentionally so, to give a portrait of the subject from several perspectives, and literally a portrait of how the subject may have felt each time he looked into a mirror, to how society viewed him as a sideshow freak. Cleverly selected by the composer for a contralto, the subject's role was well sung by the lead. The staging was traditional judging from all physical materials used, though kept to the essentials minimising distractions. Musically, the idiom was modern more post 1950s style, but not serialism nor minimalism.

Overall, I thought it was effective for what it intended to do, which was to give us a perspective of the subject's personal traumas and the merciless prejudicial society that was the subject's times. Strangely, I thought the modern style of music suited this opera. I did not think say, a Romantic style opera would have suited it. One of the more "different" operas added to my collection.

October 22nd, 2012, 10:28 AM
The character of Merrick can also be sung by a countertenor.

November 9th, 2012, 08:24 PM

The Palace was written by Sallinen in 1993, and this performance is from the Savonlinna Opera Festival, in 1995, that was the world premiere.

The libretto, by Hans-Magnus Enzensberger and Irene Dische, is a rather obscure piece loosely based on Mozart's Die Entführung and the novel "The Emperor" by Polish writer Ryszard Kapuscinski, describing the fall of Haile Selassie, last Emperor of Ethiopia. But it's rather a reflexion on the capability of Power not only for corruption, but also for exposing the weaknesses of their holders. And the futility of replacing those in Power for other people, that will start the cycle themselves. Dark and gloomy, though usually accurate, predictions.

The vocal cast is:

The King-tenor
Physician- tenor
Pillow Bearer-tenor
Keeper of the Purse-baritone
Kitty-high soprano
Defence Council-speaking role

Sallinen’s music in this opera is quite melodic, eclectic and approachable for traditional Opera fans, even in some cases we can appreciate this melodic could be close to a parody of this tradition. The orchestra sounds deceptively small, a chamber piece in style, though not really in the pit, where we can find a big number of instruments. Vocal lines are mostly declamatory, however.

The production is unobstrusive, and the cast perform as a team, whithout particularly strong or weak members. The orchestra sounds fluid, and is easily the best part of the whole opera.

Overall: B, recommended for traditional Opera fans (in a musical sense), that have a soft spot for convoluted contemporary drama.

February 15th, 2013, 03:33 PM
I admit, upfront, that contemporary opera is not my cup of tea.

That said, for a long time I have been fascinated by Barber's legendary Antony and Cleopatra (I still recall a breathtaking photograph of Leontyne Price surrounded by midnight blue lighting in Time magazine from the performance at the opening of the new Met in 1966). I recall a conversation with a friend many years ago who told me "Oh yes, that's the opera that ruined Leontyne Price's voice." Silly, I know - I saw her in recital sometime around 1980 and she sounded glorious. But, the legend lives on.

Is anyone familiar with the opera, or has anyone reviewed it here? Is it as bad as its reputation?

February 15th, 2013, 06:16 PM
I think it's a nice opera. The premiere at the MET was not well received, indeed. But this has been the case for several staples of the repertory.

Barber, with the help of Gian Carlo Menotti, revised the score and there is a quite good recording, from the Spoleto Festival:

Anyone wanting to watch the opera, can find a version in youtube, from a performance at Chicago Lyric Opera, in 1991:


Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
February 15th, 2013, 09:10 PM

Overall: B-

Oh too bad, how disappointing! As you know, I love this opera, and bought this DVD which is still on my unwatched pile. I was looking forward to watching it one of these days, but then, it's not that good, huh?

February 15th, 2013, 09:21 PM
I'd rather say, it's not that bad.

March 10th, 2013, 11:01 AM
Has anybody here viewed this version of Antikrist by Langgaard?

The music is a bit Strauss-like, but the story, the libretto and the production are totally incomprehensible to me. Perhaps someone smarter than me can make sense of it, but despite that the music is quite good this of all my opera dvd's is the one I'm the least likely to ever watch again.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
May 18th, 2013, 08:48 PM
Leonard Bernstein, Trouble in Tahiti on DVD


Trouble in Tahiti, opera in seven scenes, music and libretto by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), sung in English, set in American suburbia in the 1950's; premiered at the Brandeis Festival of Music on June 12, 1952 (under-rehearsed, delayed, started at 11 PM), then repeated, reworked by the composers, at the Tanglewood Festival later that summer (according to him, "200% better") to great success.

Filmed opera
City of London Symphony
Conducted by Paul Daniel
Director Tom Cairns
Choreography Amir Hosseinpour


Singing roles:
Sam - Karl Daymong
Dinah - Stephanie Novacek
Gardener - Tom Randle
Milkman - Toby Stafford-Allen
Female - Mary Hegarty

Non-singing roles:
Psychiatrist - Edward K. Gibbon
Sam Junior - Finn Calger-Smith
Dinah's father - Jonathan Lunn
Young Dinah - Isadora Dooley Hunter
Miss Brown - Rhian Williams

DVD technical aspects:
DVD-10 double layer, one layer is NTSC with Spanish subtitles, on the flip side the other layer is PAL with French, German, and Spanish subtitles. Color (good definition - the image seems to be a bit with pastel colors which I assume is done in purpose for a more convincing 1950's feel). Dolby Digital 5.1 and LPCM stereo. All regions. BBC/OpusArte release of 2002. Filmed in 2001. The documentary contains footage of the 1952 performances. Running time 75 minutes (this short opera runs for 40'14" and then there are extras: Introduction to the opera, 4'42" with the conductor and principal singers. Interview with Leonard Bernstein's biographer Humphrey Burton on the composer's life and works (very good), 20'21'. Interview with conductor Paul Daniel, on the performance and the background of the opera (also good), 7'. The interviews are in full color and very good definition.

The insert contains the full libretto in English, credits, scene list with duration, a very brief essay about the opera, another very brief essay about the composer, and the artistic biography of both leading singers, all of the above in English, French, and German, plus black-and-white pictures of the movie.

Available on Amazon.com for $19.93, [here (http://www.amazon.com/Leonard-Bernstein-Trouble-Stephanie-Novacek/dp/B001CK7OKQ/)]. Interestingly enough, none of the reviews on the Amazon page belong to this product. Three of them are of a different DVD version of this opera, and the other two are with people complaining that the disc won't play on their DVD players - most likely because they inserted the disc with the wrong side up, since one side is PAL (European standard) and the other is NTSC (American standard).

This opera was written before Bernstein's masterpieces West Side Story and Candide, and is very much in the crossroads between an opera and a musical, with big operatic scenes side-by-side with scenes that are very much in the tradition of musicals. While some consider this to be a minor work, I quite like it. I find it lively and interesting, with some beautiful lyric moments, and like the subject matter.

The two lead singers are simply excellent, both in voice and in acting (hers, a bit better than his). This is not easy music to sing, since it is all over the place, alternating operatic singing acrobatics with fast-paced jazzy music and declamatory parts, and they navigate it quite well, and have very clear articulation (English speakers won't need to follow the libretto on the insert). The trio sings musical-style music and they do it well. The orchestra is satisfactoy. The movie is very well directed; this is competently filmed opera.

Yes, it's short, it's not a substantial work, but I find it very enjoyable, and certainly this product displayed the work very well, with a techically accomplished DVD that has good extras and an insert with the merit of including the full libretto, and good singers/actors. Recommended.

May 19th, 2013, 05:47 PM
I watched some years ago "Trouble in Tahiti" live, in an unlikely pairing with "L'ocassione fa il ladro". It's indeed a light work, that can be enjoyed without much further ado.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
May 21st, 2013, 02:47 AM
The Visit of the Royal Physician, on DVD


The Visit of the Royal Physician (2008), opera in two acts, music by Bo Holten (b. 1948), libretto based on P. O. Enquist's novel, by Eva Sommestad Holten, sung in Danish

The Royal Danish Orchestra, conducted by the composer
The Royal Danish Opera Chorus, chorusmaster Jeremy Bines
Stage Director, Peter Orkarson
Set and costumes, Peter Holm
Lighting, Per Sundin

Recorded live at The Royal Danish Opera, on May 9, 2009


Johann Friedrich Struensee (title role), Johan Reuter
King Christian 7, Gert Henning-Jensen
Queen Caroline Mathilde, Elisabeth Jansson
Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Sten Byriel
Queen Dowager Juliane Marie, Gitta-Maria Sjöberg
Count Schack Carl Rantzau, Lars Waage
King Frederiki 5, Mogens Gert Hansen
Enevold Brandt, Bengt-Ola Morgny
Boote-Caterine, Djina Mai-Mai
Reverdil, Peter Oskarson

Plus several other comprimarios with singing parts, too numerous for me to list them all.


DVD: DR/Cubus/DaCapo/Det Kongelige Teater production, released in 2010 (DaCapo Records, Copenhagen)
DVD9/NTSC 16:9 with excellent colors and definition, sound tracks PCM stereo, DD5.1, DTS 5.1 (the one I listened to; rather uneven balance and clarity, sometimes with the singers getting smothered by the orchestra and not being efficiently picked up by the mikes); region code zero, running time 154 min + 37 min bonus material (interviews with the composer, artists). Optional subtitles in English, German, and Danish (original language).

The insert contains a description of each character (helpful; this opera has too many characters), and unfortunately *does not* include track list with number title, characters singing it, and duration (major blunder!). It contains essays of variable quality in three languages (English, German, Danish), that are strangely incomplete - for instance, nothing is said about the year of composition which I had to look up and find elsewhere; we don't get to know if this performance was the world premiere or not; the composer describes his music in a rather unsatisfactory way, and a lot of weight is given to the true historical events without much commentary about the piece itself, or the staging. This insert could use a lot of work.


Now, I'd call this piece "contemporary opera gone wrong." On this, I shouldn't be suspected of any prejudice against contemporary opera, since one only needs to read my reviews over here in this very thread to know that I'm a fan, and that I appreciate a wide variety of rather experimental and avant-garde opera and that I enjoy contemporary classical music in general.

So, what do we have here? A very inelegant, heavy score. It seems like Mr. Bo Holten believes in loudness. He uses the dynamics to underscore what he believes to be the scenes with the most theatrical impact. So what does he do? He makes a lot of noise. Loud noise. Bombastic, percussion-heavy noise. This approach seems to be taken as well to his vocal writing. Singers must yell out loud, this composer thinks. There are a few moments of delicacy (such as the title character's realization of his power in a monologue at the end of act I - unfortunately, this incomplete insert doesn't give me the name of the aria), and then it almost gets to be beautiful. But most of the time, everything is too obvious, too literal. He says in the insert that he tried to be very simple and clear in his expression and that he values clarity. Hm... I'd say, too simple... There is something to be said about subtility, at times. I'd advise this composer to seek a bit more subtle expressiveness in his music. He says he tried to "serve the dramatic and emotional purpose in the most impactful way." If by impactful he meant big blows of percussion and brass, well, hm... no, this is not impactful, it's just noisy.

What about the theatrical qualities of the piece? Well, it could have worked. The topic is interesting - a vacuum of power given a mad king, his young and unsatisfied queen looking for a real man, the Royal Physician then jumping in both to exerce power, and to sexually fulfill the queen. Gets caught. Gets sentenced to death.

But again, there is no subtility. The libretto is painfully cheesy and primitive. Many lines are just cringe-worthy. There are longeurs and too many characters. When the philosophical considerations about power are uttered, the rest has clogged the field so much already that these more meaty parts get lost and diluted. Economy of means would have produced a much better effect. Eva Holten should have looked up to someone like Arrigo Boito to learn how to be effective with a few words. You know, madam, opera libretti are tricky. Less is more.

The staging could be called semi-staged. Not that I'll be the one to complain, you all know that I like minimalistic stagings. We get some sliding panels with bands of light. There isn't much more. But regardless of the minimalistic aesthetic which I don't mind and usually like, it's nice to be a bit evocative with one's staging, and this doesn't happen, here. One knows that one is in trouble in terms of a staging, when one needs to project on the stage the name of the place where the scene is being held - a telling sign that the staging is insufficient to convey the atmosphere and the surroundings of the scene.

Costumes are one of the few strong points of this production. They are lots of fun. Very over-the-top with big wigs and make-up, but it all works.

There are the usual Regie excesses - the director makes a point of being unpleasant at times: there is vomiting, there are the obligatory naked ladies and other grotesque shenanigans that aren't very tasteful, and don't add much to the concept. Yawn. Regietheater these days is so predictable...

Singers - rather underwhelming. Or in another way to put it, they seem overwhelmed. All this yelling and shouting makes Mr. Johan Reuter go visibly hoarse. Ms. Elisabeth Jansson here bites more than she can chew, as well. She is an attractive lady and a good actress although thoroughly unconvincing as a 16-year-old (the supposed age of the queen), but she can act better than she can sing. Oh well, it doesn't seem to matter anyway, these people seem to believe that to make contemporary opera you just need to have some non-traditional tonality with lots of yelling, and then, who cares for the vocal lines anyway?

The impression that both the piece (score/libretto) and the staging seem to aim for, is - "let's put a lot of odd, bizarre things on stage, add a bunch of singers yelling and shouting their lines, some loud orchestration, and voila, people will find that it's all very artistic and avant-garde, we'll be all set."

Nope. Sorry, but this is not what good contemporary opera is about.

Grade D minus, *definitely* not recommended.

PS - And to think that something good could have been done of this story... A bit more elegance, a bit more literary treatment of the libretto, a better singer (like, for instance, Eva-Maria Westbroek as the queen)... a better technical product with good sound balance and a more complete insert... and we could have had something exquisite.

But the way it is... it's contemporary opera gone bad. And what is sad is that all this commentary about the historical context, all this fanfare... makes it just look like they take themselves too seriously - way more seriously than the meager artistic quality of this piece warrants.

Buyer, beware. Don't waste your money. This abomination was being offered on Amazon for freaking $45!! At least, given that probably nobody was buying this thing for this price, it's been dropped to $25. Still too expensive, for the little this product delivers.

Here is the ingredient that is lacking from both this piece, and this production: talent.

May 22nd, 2013, 04:33 AM
Oh, a lucky escape, I've had this in my cart a few time but never pushed the buy button.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
July 14th, 2013, 04:40 PM
Satyagraha on DVD


Satyagraha (The Force of Truth), opera in three acts (composed in 1979, premiered on September 5, 1980 in Rotterdam by the DNO)
Music by Philip Glass
Libretto by Philip Glass and Constance DeJong, sung in Sanskrit, based on the Bhagavad Gita, as a symbolic illustration for sketches telling the story of events in the life of Mohandas K. Gandhi (the words in the libretto are not closely related to the events being portrayed by the scenes, but do relate to them in philosophical terms).
Orchestrated for strings and woodwinds only, 2 sopranos, 2 mezzo-sopranos, 2 tenors, a baritone, 2 basses, and a chorus

This product:
Image Entertainment, released in December 2011
NTSC 1.33:1, Region 1 (there is a European release by ArtHaus in PAL format, apparently technically much better and with more sound and subtitle options, and a better insert explaining staging concepts), sound track is Dolby Digital 2.0 only, optional subtitles in English only, no extras, no additional information in insert, run time 168 minutes.

Technically this product is *very* deficient: the image is dark and grainy with fading colors; the sound lacks depth (it sounds like very poor captation with a limited number of mikes) and ambience/stage noise is terrible. Video direction is mediocre (based most of the time on long, dark shots that fail to convey the staging very well) and the transitions look amateurish.

Dennis Russell Davis, conductor, with the Orchestra of the Staatsoper Stuttgart
Achin Freyer, stage direction, sets and costumes
Recorded live from the Wurttembergishches Staatstheater Stuttgart, Grosses Haus, in 1983

Leo Goeke: Ghandi I
Ralf Harster: Ghandi II
Helmut Danninger: Ghandi III
Inga Nielsen: Schlesen, Ghandi's secretary
Elke Estlinbaum: Kasturbai, Ghandi's wife
Wolfgang Probst: Kallenbach I, European aide
Kimmo Lappalainen: Kallenbach II, European aide
Daniel Bonilla: Parsi Rustonji, Indian aide
Melinda Liebermann: Naidoo, Indian aide


This is a score that I *profoundly* love. Its hypnotical and lyrical qualities ensure that it is one of the most beautiful opera scores of all time. I think this opera is simply exquisite and listening to it is a must for opera lovers of all kinds. Those who are turned off by contemporary classical music don't need to fear it, given the sublime beauty of these peaceful, serene sounds, in Glass' signature style of "music with repetitive structures" (wrongly labeled as minimalism).

It is thrilling that it made it into DVD, although it is a pity that the product I'm reviewing is of such appaling low technical quality. As I mentioned above, it seems like the European product released by ArtHaus - which I haven't seen - is technically much better, as opposed to this incredibly bad North American release. This side of the pond, we do have the superb production of the same opera available for pay-per-view from the Metropolitan Opera web site (it was part of the Met Live in HD series but didn't make it into DVD), and the technical quality of that archive is simply miles ahead of this one. But anyway, at least this one does exist on DVD.

It is not like this recording doesn't have redeeming qualities. For one thing, it is superbly sung. The voices are consistently good across the board, and a pleasure to listen to. The orchestral parts suffer so much from the mediocre sound that it is hard to gauge the conductor's and the orchestra's performance, and there were parts performed by an organ to give the string players some breaks so that their arms didn't fall off, in this piece that has constant string playing for two and a half hours - one of the reasons for lovers of this score to be better off listening to the one existing CD of this opera, by the New York City Opera, although it is more abridged with more cuts, and Christopher Keene's reading of the score is considered by some critics to be not as good as Richard Croft's with the Metropolitan Orchestra that is on the pay-per-view - another reason for the latter to be the preferred version.

The staging, as far as we can see it (when the amateurish video director allows us to kind of see it) has ups and downs. It is a heavy Regie approach with the usual grotesque imagery that became the hallmark of this trend (while trying to be unconventional, these directors keep repeating themselves and just get to a new convention - the obligatory scantly clad old fat lady, etc.) but some parts are beautiful. It is, again, miles short of the Met's visually stunning production. It relies on symbolism and I don't have a problem with that. There is hardly another way to stage Satyagraha anyway, since this piece is so symbolic. It does get better as it goes on, and I like some parts of the solemn, slow motion third act, and generally the second act is less grotesque and more visually harmonious.

The bottom line is, I do appreciate the fact that one of my favorite contemporary operas made it into DVD (which is rarely the case as far as contemporary opera goes) and the good vocal performance of the cast together with some beautiful staging moments do justify the purchase of this product by lovers of this outstanding opera (given the lack of competition on this medium), but one would much prefer to have the excellent Met production represented on video.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
July 19th, 2013, 01:20 AM
Into the Little Hill on CD

Into the Little Hill (2006), a lyric tale in two parts, sung in English
Music by George Benjamin.
Libretto by Martin Crimp.

Nimbus Records CD - NI 5828, DDD, one CD

Ensemble Modern, conducted by Franck Ollu
Anu Komsi, soprano, in the roles of The Crowd, The Stranger, Narrator, and The Minister'd Child
Hilary Summers, contralto, in the roles of The Crowd, Narrator, The Minister, and The Minister's Wife
Recorded on November 9 through November 11, 2007, at the Bockenheimer Depot, Frankfurt Opera
Producer Udo Wüstendörfer - a co production with the BBC and Hessian State Radio (Hessischer Rundfunk Frankfurt)
Balance Engineer Thomas Eschler

Running time 37 minutes

The insert contains the full text of the libretto, and various essays, all in English.

Also on this CD, two other pieces by Benjamin:

Dance Figures (2004), Nine Choreographic scenes for orchestra - running time 16 minutes
BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Oliver Knussen, recorded at the Barbican, London, on March 29, 2008 (Commissioned by La Monnaie, The Chicago Symphony, and Strasbourg Musica)

Sometime Voices (1996) - running time 10 minutes
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin conducted by Kent Nagano
Rundfunkchor Berlin
Dietrich Henschel, baritone
Recorded live at the Philharmonie, Berlin, on February 13, 2005


This is the acclaimed contemporary composer George Benjamin's first opera - a chamber piece for two voices and fifteen instruments (horns, cornets, flute, clarinet, trombone, cimbalom, strings - which includes a mandoline and a banjo in addition to violins, violas, cellos, and double bass). While this piece was highly successful at the time, his claim to fame in addition to his numerous symphonic pieces, is his stunningly beautiful (full) second opera Written on Skin, a true masterpiece, which is the object of this thread: [clicky (http://operalively.com/forums/showthread.php/1781-Written-on-Skin-at-Gran-Th%C3%A9%C3%A2tre-de-Provence)].

This short piece which would be a great choice for a double bill, already hints at the greatness of Written on Skin. The plot is simple, and is the Pied Piper story. Brilliant British playwright Martin Crimp delivers a poetic text that is of rare intensity for its length. One wouldn't expect this simple tale to be this dramatic, but it is. The story is updated to more modern times, with limousines and politicians, and functions as an allegory of societal cast divisions between the rulers and the undesirable (the rats).

The power of music is celebrated in the piece. The Stranger says: "With music I can open a heart / as easily as you can open a door / and reach right in."

This is fitting, because Mr. Benjamin's music does just that. He is a master of dramatic tone painting. His vocal lines with elongated vowels (he reminds me of Sciarrino) are very efficient to convey mood states such as despair, dread, and fear, and get to be very touching. This is exemplified very early - couldn't get any earlier than this since there is no overture - given that the first sounds we hear when the opera opens, are shouts of "kill, kill." In spite of the harshness of the vocal lines (which do get to be lyric at times), the overall feeling is hypnotic, given the extreme beauty of the sounds coming from the instruments. Just like in Written in Skin, Mr. Benjamin's music envelops the listener in a sort of dream-like state (and now he reminds me of Debussy).

The two singers pass the difficult coloratura and the intense vocal demands with flying colors. Both do an excellent job.

I'd say that it is hard to pack so much, and so many interesting elements, in an opera that lasts for only 37 minutes - and Mr. Benjamin and Mr. Crimp did it!

The other two pieces on this CD are also great. I particularly loved Dance Figures, which is a study in contrast, made of an alternation of short and harsh segments with a bit longer and very melodious ones. Sometime Voices is also very compelling, and is well sung by Mr. Henschel.

After listening to these three short pieces by Mr. Benjamin and his longer opera Written on Skin, I'm a fan for life. I look forward to his new opera that has just been commissioned by the Royal Opera House, and will continue to explore his non-operatic music as well. We are in the presence of an extremely talented composer!

This CD is highly recommended, A+, for lovers of contemporary music.

Available on Amazon.com for $18.21, and in the Amazon Marketplace for $10.47: [clicky (http://www.amazon.com/Benjamin-Little-Figures-Sometime-Voices/dp/B001DFITRW/)]

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 25th, 2014, 11:40 PM
The Devils of Loudun on DVD


Die Teufel von Loudun, opera in three acts, sung in German - (premiered in Hamburg on June 20, 1969)
Music and libretto by Krzystof Penderecki, based on John Whiting's stage play after Aldous Huxley's The Devils of Loudun.

The Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra conducted by Marek Janowski
The Chorus of the Hamburg State Opera, chorus master Günther Schimdt-Bohländer

Rolf Liebermann, General Manager of the Hamburg State Opera, is the artistic director of this production, which was recorded for NDR TV, a German channel, in 1969
Stage director Konrad Swinarski
Directed for TV by Joachim Hess
Set design Lidia Skarzynski and Jerzy Skarzynski

Studio production with a slightly different cast, of the world premiere production at Hamburg State Opera


Jeanne - Tatiana Troyanos
Urban Grandier - Andrzej Hiolski
Adam - Kurt Marschner
Mannoury - Heinz Blankenburg
Ninon - Elisabeth Steiner
Barré - Bernard Ladysz
Rangier - Hans Sotin
Laubardermont - Helmut Melcher
Asmodeus - Arnold van Mill
... and numerous other comprimarios


This is a very interesting work. You need to love modern and contemporary opera (like I do) to appreciate it, but within its genre, it is a very good piece. Aldous Huxley's research book and the subsequent stage play and opera that came out of it address the real life story of the torture and execution of Catholic priest Urbain Grandier in 1634, in the French provincial town of Loudun, on (false) allegations of witchcraft, pacts with the devil, and (true) dissolute life, based on a physically deformed nun's erotomaniac infatuation with him (with the accurate background of his fornication with some of his female parishioners), but truly motivated by political reasons, given his support for the Huguenots' cause.

What we have here is an extraordinary group of singing actors, including the spectacular performance by a young Tatiana Troyanos, and otherwise with no weak links, with a very good Andrzej Hiolski lending gravitas to the proceedings. The work sounds and looks more like a movie with atmospheric film score than like an opera (but a very good score it is, dense, intense, with lots of percussion and ghostly exotic sounds). Only the role of Jeanne has vocal lines that approach anything operatic, being the other vocal roles rather declamatory in nature. Staging is of the highest quality, perfectly rendering the nightmarish, grotesque, and morbid feel of this dark story. Video direction is exquisite, with the kitsch cinematography typical of the 60's.

This is not for the faint of heart. For one thing, those who experience shock when facing graphic nudity might want to refrain from watching this, not to forget some equally graphic torture scenes. Those however who want to witness a historical tour-de-force by Tatiana Troyanos shouldn't miss it.

Technically speaking, this satisfactory product is an old video recording with mono sound, but it is of surprisingly good quality in terms of image and sound. It's an ArtHaus Musik and Studio Hamburg 2007 release on DVD 9, NTSC, 4:3 color picture, PCM mono sound, region code 0 (worldwide), sung in original German with subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian. Running time 108 minutes; extras include three interesting trailers of other Hamburg productions (Fidelio, Zar und Zimmermann, Die Zauberflöte). The insert contains a very good 3-page essay and a detailed synopsis in English, German, and French; credits, list of tracks with names of musical numbers, characters, and duration, and five black-and-white production pictures.

I can't think of any downside to this DVD. Granted, the piece itself stretches the limit of what you consider opera versus a film or a stage play with music and it is shocking and grotesque, but it couldn't be rendered any more perfectly than this, by this gifted ensemble of singing actors and crew. A++, highly recommended for lovers of modern and contemporary opera, and/or for lovers of good stage dramas, as well as for Ms. Troyanos' fans.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
March 1st, 2014, 03:37 AM
King Priam on DVD


King Priam, opera in three acts, sung in English (premiered on May 26, 1962 at Coventry Cathedral, London)
Music by Sir Michael Tippett; libretto by the composer, based on Homer's Iliad, and Hyginus' Fabulae.

Kent Opera Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Roger Norrington
Produced by Nicholas Hytner
Set designer David Fielding
Lighting by Paul Pyant
Directed for TV by Robin Lough

Rodney Macann (Priam), Janet Price (Hecuba), Omar Ebrahim (Hector), Sarah Walker (Andromache), Howard Haskin (Paris), Anne Mason (Helen), Christopher Gillett (Hermes) and Neil Jenkins (Achilles).

Directed for Channel 4, released on VHS by Virgin Classics in 1990 and the Kultur label in 1997, and on DVD by ArtHaus Musik in 2007

This is the ArtHaus Musik release: NTSC, picture format 4:3, sound track PCM Stereo, subtitles in English, German, French, and Spanish; region code zero (worldwide), running time 138 minutes, no extras.

The insert contains credits, two 1-page essays, a 2-page synopsis, a list of musical numbers with characters and duration, and several one-paragraph blurbs on the performers, all repeated in English, French, and German, with four production pictures in black and white.

Technically speaking, this is a rather primitive product, as far as the image is concerned: grainy, with poor definition and vertical stripes running across the screen. The PCM sound track is significantly better than the image, with good clarity and balance between the orchestra and the singers (although it does favor the latter a bit more).

Sets and costumes are very unattractive, visually. They are roughly contemporary but very bleak - concrete, plaster, dirt, all in grayish color - having visited Troy recently, I must say the set does match a little bit the visuals over there, in the archeological ruins, which are not great looking and convey a feeling of decay and despair. Singers are dressed in white dirty gowns or stylized military uniforms.

Acting is dismal. Most singers in this production can't act at all. Singing is uneven but does have some artists that deliver more impressive performances, especially Rodney Macann in the title role.

The Paris role is sung by three different people - a young baby in the opening scene (certainly the youngest opera singer I've ever heard, LOL), a 10-year old boy with a terrible voice, and then the adult Howard Haskin takes upon the full Paris adult role with rather anemic colors. Christopher Gillett does rather well as Hermes although his pitch control is faulty.

This production is not that good, and the visuals don't add anything to the opera. We should better listen to it on CD. Not recommended.


However, even this poor production can't disguise how good Tippett's opera is.

It is one of the most efficient accounts of the famous story of Troy which is one of my favorite half myth, half reality pieces of human history/art.

Sure, people should only approach this if they love modern opera, given that this work is the divisor of waters between melodious Tippett and musically innovative, fragmented, atonal and abrupt Tippett.

Don't expect melodies. The whole vocal writing is of the recitative/declamatory kind (but at the same time, it is very difficult to sing. given a good amount of wide range, and lots of dramatic and forceful stretches - it is very easy to get taken into this and to become shouty, a defect that many singers in this production were unable to avoid). But then, the orchestral writing is really interesting, and this score with relative economy of means is precise, slim, and extremely well adjusted to each situation. The libretto is excellent with impressive dramatic impact, good pace, and good literary quality. It brings the listener up to a bit before the plot of Berlioz's Les Troyens starts. While Gluck's Paride ed Elena addresses the same story with a more romantic and melodious take, here we are in harsh and manly territory.

Some parts are extraordinary, such as Achille's war cry at the end of act II, or Hermes' aria in act III. Goosebumping!

The verdict for this product (available on Amazon for $23 [clicky (http://www.amazon.com/Michael-Tippett-Priam-Rodney-Macann/dp/B000XUFHJQ/)]) is that it is not recommended, C+.
However the opera itself is A+.

This is an excellent modern opera, up there with those from Tippett's contemporay Benjamin Britten (it premiered one day apart from Britten's premiere of his War Requiem, on the same venue). Tippett deserves more recognition from audiences.

March 1st, 2014, 12:41 PM
So . . . is "King Priam" Tippett's masterpiece?

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
March 1st, 2014, 12:47 PM
So . . . is "King Priam" Tippett's masterpiece?

It's one of his two masterpieces, the other one being The Summer Marriage which contains more tuneful music, and has deserved a very good recording by Sir Colin Davis:


The Midsummer Marriage, specifically this recording, can be heard in its entirety on Youtube, and is way more accessible:

Acts I and II:[Link to video deleted by Admin - video no longer available]

Act III: [Link to video deleted by Admin - video no longer available]

King Priam is more in the modern musical language so you got to like that to appreciate it (which I do).

PS - Oh, OK, you're making reference to Xavier's thread, LOL. Yes, I think the answer is affirmative, and I'll go there to give my take on it.

April 12th, 2014, 11:26 PM
"der konsul", by Gian Carlo Menotti

German libretto by Werner Gallusser

DVD on the ARTHAUS MUSIK label

Historical Studio Production, 1963

Conductor Franz Bauer-Theussl
TV version and Director Rudolph Cartier
Set Designer Robert Posik
Costume Designer Edith Almoslino

Orchestra of the Wiener Volksoper

John Sorel Eberhard Waechter
Magda Sorel Melitta Muszely
Mutter Res Fischer
Polizeiagent Willy Ferenz
Sekretärin Gloria Lane
Kofner Friedrich Nidetzky
Italienerin Ljuba Welitsch
Anna Gomez Laurence Dutoit
Vera Boronel Hilde Konetzni
Zauberer László Szemere
Assan Alois Pernerstorfer
Sängerin Eva Pilz

This is the DVD production I alluded to when I reviewed the Seattle Opera "The Consul". [clicky] (http://operalively.com/forums/showthread.php/2074-quot-The-Consul-quot-Seattle-Opera) I won't insult your intelligence by repeating the same information, about the opera, etc. This is just to say I saw this DVD this afternoon. It is a very good production, for television, in black and white. Since it was adapted for TV they cut all of Menotti's scene change music, as there were no longer any staged scene changes. The camera effects, the doubled images layered on top of each other, for the two hallucination scenes, was very effective.

Those of you who do not like operas sung in English might like this German translation. There are subtitles in German, English, French, Spanish, and Italian. As near as I could tell the English subtitles ran almost identical to the original libretto. Running time is 99 minutes. By way of special feature there is a 4 minute interview with Menotti. It might have been longer, but Menotti's German was extremely poor, so I think they cut the interview rather than continue it. They established that Menotti had lived in Vienna to write some of his operas. He stammered through, corrected himself, and the interviewer corrected him, and then suddenly it was over. I thought it was good to see him, and he didn't look like I had expected.

A very good production, that I recommend, seeing as live productions are rare.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
April 13th, 2014, 12:20 AM
Yes, I think The Consul is a great opera, masterpiece level. I have this version, which is in English, also in black and white, and in my opinion it is very, very good:


I reviewed it [here (http://operalively.com/forums/showthread.php/18-Modern-and-Contemporary-Opera-on-DVD-blu-ray-and-CD/page4?p=8710&viewfull=1#post8710)] and gave it the highest score, A++

April 13th, 2014, 01:37 AM
It is interesting to note: Leon Lishner, the basso who created the role of the Police Agent, lived and taught voice in the Seattle area, sang for Seattle Opera, when he was not on the east coast creating one of the Magi for Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors".

On a personal note, "Amahl" was my first introduction to opera. I played violin in the pit orchestra for our local production. Something I am proud of.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
August 24th, 2014, 02:24 PM
Nelligan, opéra romantique in two acts, sung in French (premiered in February 1990, Grand Théâtre de Québec, Québec City, Canada)
Music by André Gagnon (born 1942), orchestrated by Gilles Ouellet
Libretto by Michel Tremblay

Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, conducted by Jacques Lacombe
Recorded live, in concert, on 18 and 19 February 2005 at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts, Montréal


Daniel Lavoie - Émile Nelligan vieux
Dominique Côté - Émile Nelligan jeune
Kathleen Fortin - Émilie Hudon, mère d'É mile
Pierre Flynn - David Nelligan, père d'Émile
Richard Séguin - Le père Seers, protecteur et ami d'Émile
Sylvie Tremblay - Françoise, pretectrice et amie d'Émile
Daniel Bélanger - Charles Gill, ami d'Émile
Esther Gonthier - Pianiste


Released on CD (2) DDD by CBC Records (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) / Les Disques SRC under the label Espace Musique
Catalogue number SMCD 5237-2, released on November 21, 2006, available on Amazon for the "bargain" price of $775.06 (I wonder why the six cents). The French libretto is included in full (no translation). Very good sound especially given that this is a live concert - no audience noise is perceived, except for applauses at the end of numbers. The insert includes credits, a one-page essay, and a blurb about each artist, with head photos, all in French only.

The tragic life story of Canadian poet Émile Nelligan (who wrote his poetry when very young then had a psychotic breakdown and spent the rest of his life in a psychiatric hospital) is very popular in Québec, and this work, I'm told, has deserved considerable regional interest, gathering some important figures in French Canadian musical culture. Composer André Gagnon plies his trade in what is called a fusion of classical and pop, including sound tracks for Canadian films.

It is very melodic, in a sort of romantic French chanson mode, with rather elementary orchestration that does sound more pop and more cinematic than classical. The singers in this CD are from musical theater or pop and they uniformly do a god job, if you are into this sort of thing (it's not exactly my cup of tea). The libretto is poetic enough, incorporating a couple of poems from Nelligan himself, including the famous "La Romance du Vin" (the other one is aslo very good, "Le Vaisseau d'Or", which ends the opera).

Second act in my opinion is more beautiful, with longing, melancholic notes - Disc 2, track 5, for example, is particularly enticing ("Autrefois"), and so is track 10 ("Je ne ressens plus rien"). Maybe the most beautiful piece is Disc 2, track 11, "La Dame en Noir" - a song I'm sure would be very successful as an isolated pop hit, and it is elegantly sung by Kathleen Fortin. Anyway, this is overall a musically beautiful work but I have trouble evoking the word "opera" while listening to this - and curiously enough, the word is completely absent from the documentation that comes with the CD, although the structure is operatic with no spoken dialogue.

Our good Canadian member itywltmt published in his excellent OTF series of articles an account of the background for this work: [clicky (http://operalively.com/forums/content.php/912-OTF-%96-Nelligan-The-Back-Stories)]

He also wrote a post that contains a synopsis and information on the other recording of this piece: [clicky (http://operalively.com/forums/showthread.php/2007-OTF-%96-Nelligan-Op%E9ra-Romantique)]

Now, the cult status of this work in Canada is probably what explains the exorbitant price on Amazon. I do own a copy and I did buy it from Amazon a while ago for a regular price - it's probably now out of print and being offered by collectors at inflated prices.

I hesitate in rating this product. For lovers of French romantic songs, it's very good. For opera lovers, I don't know... All things considered, maybe B-; recommended only to a niche audience (and certainly not worth the asking price - I probably should try to sell my copy, hehehe).

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
August 24th, 2014, 04:16 PM
Emmeline, Opera in two acts, sung in English, premiered on July 27, 1996 at Santa Fe Opera, Santa Fe, NM
Music by Tobias Picker (born 1954)
Libretto by J. D. McClatchy, after the novel of the same name by Judith Rossner

The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra conducted by George Manahan
Chorus: Members of the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program for Singers; chorus master Gary Wedow


Patricia Racette (Emmeline Mosher)
Curt Peterson (Matthew Gurney)
Victor Ledbetter (Mr. Maguire)
Anne-Marie Owens (Aunt Hannah Watkins)
Kevin Langan (Henry Mosher)
Wright Moore (Hooker)
Mary Jane Kania (Ella Burling)
Melanie Sarakatsannis (Sophie)
Josepha Gayer (Mrs. Bass)
Herbert Perry (Pastor Avery)
Michelle Bradley (Harriet Mosher)
Gregory Keil (Simon Fenton)

Recorded live at Santa Fe Opera on July 27-31, 1996 (World Premiere)
Commissioned by The Santa Fe Opera and produced by Thirteen/WNET for Great Performances
Released on 2 CDs, DDD (good sound with good balance between orchestra and singers and no audience noise), by Albany Records in 1998, catalog # Troy 284-85
Runtime Disc 1 49:41; Disc 2 63:26


Available on Amazon for $31; from $23 new and $14 used on Amazon Marketplace: [clicky (http://www.amazon.com/Picker-Emmeline-Tobias/dp/B000006A6Q/)]

The excellent insert contains the full libretto, five production pictures (staging by Francesca Zambello), costumes sketches, and extensive documentation on the work's background, including a 3-page essay by the composer himself, detailed synopsis, a 2-page essay by the librettist, track list with number titles, singers, and duration, a picture of the composer, and reproductions of cotton mills at the time when the real-life story happened.

Emmeline is a very good American contemporary opera, with a half neo-romantic, half modernist predominantly tonal score by talented composer Tobias Picker, including melodic vocal writing for the most part. Atonal elements do exist but are rather limited to effects that depict the factory environment of the cotton mill with its machines popping and whistling, and to harsh confrontation scenes. The score has been described as a tennis match between Copland and Stravinsky, with Copland eventually prevailing. Its very American musical language incorporates a rhythmic beat (very noticeable in Scene 4) and absorbs elements from the hymn "Rock of Ages" and from ancient biblical psalms. There are also parts that appeal to American minimalism.

The story depicts the real events with Oedipus overtones in Fayette, Maine when a humble woman born in the 1820's (real name Emeline with a single M) went to work for a Massachusetts cotton mill in Lowell, Massachusetts, and was seduced by the manager, giving birth at age 14 to a child that was given away for adoption. Much later in life she fell in love with a young man in spite of the age difference, and married him. It turned out that the man was her son. When the truth surfaced he left her, and she spent the rest of her life ostracized and shunned by society, in utter solitude.

The inspiration for the novel came from the PBS documentary "The American Experience" in its chapter "The Sins of Our Mothers" that recovered the story from local tellers in the town of Fayette. Tobias Picker saw it on TV and decided that he had finally found the subject for his first opera, which he had been pursuing for the previous eight years.

The world premiere at Santa Fe Opera was heralded at the time with public and critic enthusiasm. The opera was given two years later by New York City Opera with the same cast for the principal roles, and most of the comprimario roles with a few substitutions. A chamber version was given in 2009 by DiCapo Opera Theater in New York City. The televised opera on PBS aired nationwide on April 2, 1997.

The libretto contains good drama and is reasonably well written although a bit cliché in parts. Musically this is all very interesting and well paced, always in the move, with some recurrent leitmotivs and very good tone painting.

Patricia Racette is admirable in this recording, putting together a veritable soprano tour-de-force with nice and pure high notes and beautifully emotional, sweet voice acting. Victor Ledbetter is serviceable; not as brilliant. Anne-Marie Owens is appropriately steely and harsh. Curt Peterson does a good job in terms of pitch accuracy with only the occasional high-note thinning, and he has clear enunciation but one would want a bit more color.

This is a very satisfactory piece for lovers of contemporary opera (but equally accessible to those who are less used to this musical language given that it is melodic enough). It's well balanced in terms of pace, theatricality, and musical tone painting; it is musically interesting with eclectic influences, dramatically compelling, and this product is not only well recorded but also nicely packaged with extensive documentation. Recommended, grade A.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
October 27th, 2014, 06:10 AM
Dialogues des Carmélites on blu-ray disc


Dialogues des Carmélites, opéra en trois actes et douze tableaux (1957), sung in French

Music by Francis Poulenc
Libretto by Francis Poulenc over a screenplay/play by Georges Bernanos, after a short story by Gertrude Von Le Fort
Premiered in Italian translation at La Scala in January 1957; premieres of the French original followed in Paris later that year, as well as a performance in English translation in San Francisco

These blu-ray and DVD products are on pre-release by Warner Classics / ERATO, expected in the American market on November 11, 2014 - Pre-order available at Amazon [here (http://www.amazon.com/Poulenc-Dialogues-Carm%C3%A9lites-V%C3%A9ronique-Gens/dp/B00NT2NFPI/)], $33 and $27 respectively

Opera co-production: Le Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, and Le Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels

Filmed live at Le Théâtre des Champs-Elysées on December 21, 2013 with video direction by François-René Martin; produced for video by Camera Lucida Production, with the participation of ARTE France, France Télévisions, Classica Italia, and Le Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.

Run Time 169 minutes, Region B/2, subtitles in French, English and German; no bonus. Sound LPCM Stereo and DD5.1.

Philarmonia Orchestra conducted by Jeremie Rhorer
Choeur du Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, chorus master Margane Fouchois-Prado

Stage Direction - Olivier Py
Sets and Costumes - Pierre-André Weitz
Lighting - Bertrand Killy


Blanche de La Force - Patricia Petibon
Mère Marie de L'Incarnation - Sophie Koch
Madame Lidoine or Mère Thérèse de St Augustine (Prioress) - Véronique Gens
Soeur Constance de Saint Denis - Sandrine Piau
Madame de Croissy - Rosalind Plowright
Le Chevalier de la Force - Topi Lehtipuu
Le Marquis de la Force - Philippe Rouillon
Le Père confesseur du couvent - François Piolino
Mère Jeanne de l'Enfant Jésus - Annie Vavrille
Soeur Mathilde - Sophie Pondjiclis
Le premier commissaire - Jérémy Duffau
Le second commissaire / un officier - Yuri Duffau
Thierry / le médecin / le géolier - Mattieu Lécroart


I will be attending a semi-staged version of this beautiful opera on November 16, with the Winston-Salem Symphony (click [here (http://www.wssymphony.org/experience/concerts/powerful-opera/)] for more info and tickets - also showing on November 18), featuring one of my favorite sopranos, the intelligent Jill Gardner, and Sarah Jane McMahon in the principal role of Blanche.

Sarah Jane and Jill

Opera Lively will be interviewing both artists about their roles (stay tuned). In preparation for it, I'm watching this production with a stellar cast.

I know this opera from the old 1958 recording with Pierre Dervaux conducting the orchestra of the Opéra de Paris, and featuring Denise Durval, the great Régine Crespin, Liliane Berton, Rita Gorr, Denise Scharley, Paul Finel, and Xavier Depraz, reissued in ADD by EMI. There is a more modern recording, from 1991 (DDD) with the orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon conducted by Kent Nagano.

I had never seen it visually, in spite of the fact that even before this product, it was already well represented on DVD and blu-ray, with an ArtHaus release of a La Scala production conducted by Riccardo Muti and directed by Robert Carsen, and many others.

The current one was deemed by Le Figaro as "a thing of wonder."

This powerful, gripping masterpiece of an opera is predominantly tonal and very melodic, with beautiful interludes and flowing singing lines using recitative and arioso. Poulenc himself, supposedly, asked to be forgiven for writing a tonal work in a time when this was considered passé. It recovers the real life French Revolution event in Compiègne when catholic nuns were executed by guillotine.


This production is updated to current times, with modern costumes. The stage is dark and stark, but when in the opening scene the Marquis de La Force is frightened after his son gives him the news of the revolution, projections in silhouette are shown on the back wall, with scenes of popular revolt that are a very nice directorial touch. A servant writes the word Liberté on the wall. Poulenc's music, as it will happen often in this piece, goes from serenely melodic to frantic and fragmented. Topi Lehtipuu, a singer we know well from other productions, is rather unremarkable in this scene, while Philippe Rouillon as the Marquis does well.

Soon enough our fabulous Patricia Petibon enters the scene, with an austere outfit that doesn't do justice to her striking beauty and her great red hair, alas.


If this production is doing what they can to disguise Patricia's beauty, it doesn't hinder her voice which is in great form. Patricia with the years went from a small voice to a fuller one with bigger projection, and she has been doing very well. She also displays her customary good acting range, with her signature facial expressions, enhanced by the fact that she carries a lamp which makes her face be highlighted against the dark background, in a nice effect.

It is curious to notice that in this production Blanche and her brother seem to have a bond that is a bit more that fraternal, with a hint of eroticism. One wonders if Blanche's sudden decision to go to the convent doesn't have to do with something incestuous going on between her and her brother.

Blanche has her extended dialogue with her father, full of dramatic singing with wide high and low range. She announces her intention of joining the convent, and collapses on the ground. Her father is about to touch her and comfort her, but he refrains from it. I wonder why. Stage directions from Poulenc said that he was supposed to pet her head. In this production he is about to do it, but hesitates and takes out his hand.

The beautiful first prélude has the striking image that is on the cover of the DVD. 25 minutes in, and so far I'm liking this production quite a lot. The second tableau takes place in the convent to which Blanche arrives through these openings made by large sliding walls in the form of a cross. Lighting effects made bright stripes over the stage (very nice). The older singer who does Mme. de Croissy, Rosalind Plowright, is simply excellent in her acting and not too shabby in her singing either. This tableau, far from my first impression of kindness from reading the libretto, is played by Ms. Plowright in a sort of hateful and harsh manner which makes the text much more impressive. Well done!

Another beautiful interlude, and the sliding doors show some naked trees with bluish lighting. Large trees slide into the foreground as well, and that wall with the word Liberté comes back. The stage looks anything but evoking freedom, being it rather bleak and oppressive, in a striking contrast. Patricia Petibon during the interlude is lying on the ground, already in her nun habit. Patricia stands up and starts to mop the floor. She looks very beautiful. Third Tableau brings in the young nun Constance, and the singer, our dear and excellent Sandrine Piau, is a force of nature with amazing projection and volume. The role is extremely difficult with this shouty initial recitative, very exposed, and of course the formidable Sandrine nails it, to perfection.

This third tableau is very interesting. The dialogue is precious. I love the quote by Constance - "If life is so amusing, I figure that death must be amusing as well."

The fourth tableau starts with clever set design: the dying Mother Superior's bed is suspended from the back wall, lit from below - you need to see this, it's too hard to describe but it is a very successful effect.

This rather perfect production, singing-wise, continues with still another great singer, Sophie Koch in the role of Mère Marie. Her interaction with the dying nun is extraordinary, very powerful and sad.

End of the first act. This opera is a masterpiece, and its qualities here are enhanced by this intriguing production. Wow!

Act II, first tableau, opens with a spectacular duet in Latin by Blanche and Constance, next to Mother Superior’s coffin.

Then the new Prioress (Veronique Gens, another great singer) addresses the nuns and they sing the Ave Maria (very beautiful). By the way, the writing on the wall, first just Liberté, gets added the words devant Dieu.

Blanche's brother comes to visit, following maybe the most beautiful interlude to date, before tableau 3 in act 2. Patricia is great in this scene (it's the part where there is the famous quote about fear of fear); again Topi not as much, being the weakest acting link in this cast, and with somewhat uninvolved singing. OK, definitely the link between brother and sister here is erotic, as evidenced by the way they embrace, so, it *is* a directorial touch here.

We get to the scenes when the nuns are evicted by the police. They are somewhat unremarkable. End of second act, less powerful than the first act's ending.

Act III, very nice visuals during scene change, then there is an interesting scene where the nuns sit on a table just like Da Vinci's painting "The Last Supper." Good singing and good acting continues. I do find that this staging gets a little confusing for those who don't know well the opera, as some scene changes are only done by sliding panels and what is happening is probably unclear to the less informed public, since no staging directions from Poulenc are followed, and there are almost no props, so the geographic displacements of the characters are not evident. This is compounded by the fact that the second half of the second tableau in Act III is cut, and it does clarify what is going on (this is when a hidden Blanche learns from two old women that the sisters have been arrested in Compiègne). I don't understand why this part was cut because it is brief but clarifies the story. We jump directly to tableau 3 which is already inside the prison.

This tableau opens with a very beautiful sung part which is probably what is closest to an aria so far, by the Prioress. Sets in trompe-l'oeil look very striking.

The prison guard reads their sentence to death in one of the most interesting parts both in terms of vocal writing and in orchestration. This is a very powerful scene in the opera with exquisite tone-painting by Poulenc. What an opera!

The lamentations from the Prioress area again extremely beautiful. This is a great role. Véronique Gens does it very competently.

During the very suspenseful and ominous prelude, staging is very interesting - the nuns have cardboard pieces cut in shapes like angel wings, crosses, and other religious symbols.

The last tableau (Act III, 4) starts in solemn fashion with the nuns dressed in simple white gowns. Incredibly beautiful choral music happens against a starry sky in a a dark stage. This is one of the musically most beautiful scenes in all of opera as the nuns sing a religious anthem but we hear the thumps of the guillotine and they leave and go die one by one which makes the chorus be smaller and smaller. Goose-bumping. Constance is the last one. Then Blanche comes out of the crowd where she was hiding (I mean, for those who know the libretto - it is not as easy to understand in this staging) and decides to die together with Constance.

Patricia Petibon sings the last five lines in Latin:

Deo Patri sit gloria
Et Filio qui a mortuis
Surrexit ac Paraclito
In saeculorum saecula.
In saeculorum.

Suddenly she is silent as the last thump of the guillotine is heard. She turns and walks into the dark background, with her arms open. The end.

In a word, spectacular!!!

In the curtain call, the public becomes delirious especially when Patricia takes her bows - which is very deserved.

The verdict:

This is one of the finest 20th century operas ever composed. It is extremely powerful and musically beautiful, haunting, and intense.

It gets here a very gifted cast with fabulous singers who act very well too, in a terrific staging (although one should read Poulenc's stage directions to understand the action) since the minimalistic sets sometimes don't make the plot clear).

It is all very tasteful and visually interesting. The opera is filmed with no gimmicks. To top it all, we get one of the best performances ever, by this extraordinary artist Patricia Petibon, in great vocal form and as usual with very advanced acting skills.

What's not to like? The cons are very minor (one unnecessary cut, a couple of confusing staging solutions) which will just confirm that nothing in live musical theater is perfect, but these minor glitches shouldn't make of this product any less than A++, very highly recommended and a mandatory buy for *all* opera lovers, because this is the kind of work that can demonstrate to people how modern and contemporary opera can be good, and how the art form is still alive even after the death of the great masters of the past.

I'm very excited that in a few days I'll be seeing this opera live.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
November 8th, 2014, 10:22 PM
Die Vögel on blu-ray disc

Die Vögel (The Birds), a lyric fantastic play in two acts after Aristophanes, premiered in 1920 in Munich, Germany; sung in German
Music by Walter Braunfels (1882-1954)
Libretto by Walter Braunfels

ArtHaus Music blu-ray release (Nov 2010) recorded live at Los Angeles Opera on April 23 and 26, 2009
(Part of the LA Opera's Recovered Voices series)


Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by James Conlon; chorus master Grant Gershon

Directed by Darko Tresnjak
Set Design by David P. Gordon
Costume Design by Linda Cho
Lighting Design by David Weiner
Choreography by Peggy Kickey
Video Direction by Kenneth Shapiro


Nightingale - Désirée Rancatore
Good Hope - Brandon Jovanovich, our upcoming interviewee, scheduled for Nov 19 in person at the Met
Loyal Friend - James Johnson
Hoopoe - Martin Gantner
Wren - Stacey Tappan
Prometheus - Brian Mulligan
Eagle/Zeus - Matthew Moore

Picture 16:9, 1080i HD, sound PCM stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, region Worldwide, subtitles German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, and Chinese (not listed on the back cover, but available), running time 139 minutes, no bonus related to this opera, but four trailers from other ArtHaus products.

The insert contains 2 color production pictures on the front and back covers, 5 black-and-white production pictures inside, the picture of a costume sketch, list of musical numbers with characters and durations, and a high-quality, 5-page essay by James Conlon himself, repeated in English, German, and French. Curiously, there is no synopsis.


In the context of our upcoming interview with Brandon Jovanovich we are reviewing this production. It opens with a very delicate short orchestral prelude, then the silhouette of the Nightingale is seen, backlit with bluish hues. Next she approaches the proscenium and sings rather divinely a coloratura-rich aria that is very melodious (it seems like this opera is not really with modernist music, but rather neo-romantic - maybe I this review should rather be placed it in the Miscellaneous Composers thread - well, I guess I think of this thread as the one for 20th and 21th century operas composed by someone other than Puccini, R. Strauss, and Britten who have their own threads).

We soon get our good Brandon, singing the second musical number, a duet with James Johnson.

The insert commits a tiny blunder: it credits all singers by the English name of their characters, but the track list contains only the German names. It is not self-evident for those who don't speak German to follow who is who, so here goes the translation:

Nachtigall = Nightingale (this one was easy) - high soprano role
Hoffegut = Good Hope, our Brandon's character - tenor
Ratefreund = no, not a rat! Rather, Loyal Friend! - high bass
Zaunschlüpfer = Wren - soprano
Wiedhopf = Hoopoe, the King of the Birds - baritone
Drossel = Thrush (there are two of them, first and second; low soprano and soprano)
Adler = Eagle
Rabe = Raven
Flamingo = guess what? Flamingo!
Prometheus - baritone
Voice of Zeus - baritone

Now, I'm stumped. There is a character called Zaunschlüpfer - and this is translated as fence panties... Whaaaat? Wait a moment, will this opera have this kind of cough cough assets cough cough? Well, it looks like my hopes are shattered, because apparently this is the German name of a bird - unsurprisingly, huh? It's any of several small active brown birds of the northern hemisphere with short upright tails; they feed on insects. That's gotta be helpful: they feed on insects. A bird that feeds on insects, who would have imagined such a thing? That's gotta narrow it down, to get the English name of this bird. Oh wait, I found more. They are perching birds mostly small and living near the ground with feet having 4 toes arranged to allow for gripping the perch; most are songbirds; hatchlings are helpless. Hm... hatchlings are helpless, huh? That's gotta help. Is any Opera Lively member an ornithologist, by any chance? I'm not a bird guy (although I have nothing against Papageno).

OK, OK, I got it! It's the Wren! All right, the info was updated above in the list of birds. We are good to go. It looks like the chorus has some other birds too: 3 swallows, 2 tits, 4 doves, 4 wrynecks, 2 peewits, 3 cuckoos. Gotta love birds called tits.

Now, now, let's get serious again. The music, right. Let's play it on.

I've mentioned that I liked the Nightingale. This Désirée Rancatore (unknown to me up to today) is good. Unfortunately James Johnson is not so good - his voice sounds tired. Our Brandon, though, wow! We picked a good one to interview. His voice has a very beautiful, dark timbre for a tenor, and is very meaty and well modulated. It is thick both in the lower and the higher registers [Edit - hmm, actually, I spoke too soon. More on this later]. This guy can sing! Very nice!

Now, sunrise; the cardboard clouds (cute-looking sets) turn from blue to orange, and we get the Wren. Darn, this soprano is definitely not good. Not good at all. Very thin and small voice with an unremarkable quality, this Stacey Tappan. So far we are 2 and 2 - Brandon and Désirée are good; Stacey and James are not.

The Hoopoe makes his entrance. Martin Gantner is good enough. Not brilliant, but quite decent.

I should say for the sake of these nice artists that today I'm being very demanding. I just attended a live presentation with four outstanding singers yesterday (see my Curlew River review) so I'm being a bit hard to please. But yes, there's no denying that this production has had erratic singing, so far - but with the Hoopoe being rather on the good side, this is tipping the singing balance to the positive territory.

Also, this is a darn good conductor. I've rather neglected to listen to orchestras under James Conlon. One of these days I heard someone say that he is generally underestimated, and deserves more recognition than he gets. Probably true. This is a very eventful score, and it could get in the way of the singers. Under his baton, it's not happening. The orchestra is moving along, following the singers rather than the other way around, as they should. The sounds from the pit are very peppy and frisky; it's all buoyant and fast-moving, and there is good resonance. This is class A conducting and orchestral playing.

Now all the birds come in; huge crowd. Decent blocking (nothing special). Very colorful costumes. Definitely a very good staging. Nice eagle, and the Hoopoe is warming up his voice and getting better.

About the chorus: not as good as the Met's. There are rough edges, some abrupt shifts with an element coming a bit early or a bit late, and some of the voices are just OK. In general they sound good, but just not in the "wow!" way that we get from the Met chorus.

About the work - this is a very nice opera, my friends. It's really a pity that it got suppressed by the Nazis for so long, and only made it back into the repertory in the 70's. It is a very pleasant score; the pace is good; and the vocal writing is excellent and varied.

Our Brandon now in "Ach, der Zeit" gets to reach for the really high notes, and I must say, now it's not as successful. If there is such thing as a baritone-tenor, that's him. His more comfortable tessitura sits low, and when he is in this preferred range the voice is very beautiful; he gets most high notes well, but the *highest* notes then become a problem, with loss of volume and thinning.

End of act I. So far this is B+ territory but not higher, due to some singing booboos, although everything else is quite compelling [Edit - I did find more flaws, later, but more strengths too].

Let's see what act II does for us.

It opens with stratospheric coloratura singing from our leading soprano Ms. Rancatore. Why haven't I heard of her before? Looking her up. OK, Italian, rather nice resumé, with lots of performances in all regional Italian houses and also reaching out to La Scala, Opéra de Paris, Salzburg, and Covent Garden. Almost nothing this side of the pond, which explains why she flew under my radar.

Very beautiful scene, by night time again, reminds one of Mozart and the Queen of the Night. Brandon struggles a bit with his part of this duet "Wer Ruft?" with Désirée, showing some difficulty keeping the pitch stable when there is an upward leap. To his defense, his part here is very difficult, very shouty and weepy, and with wide range. Again, he does better in the lower parts. Then, as the duet goes on forever and ever, she starts to tire as well. Darn, this is a killer. This opera must be difficult to cast. Coming out of the intermission break, both singers had trouble navigating this scene that goes on for 19 minutes of intensive singing! The blu-ray HD image shows a sweaty Brandon - no wonder. Finally the chorus comes in to give the two exhausted singers a break.

Lighting and projections in this part are phenomenal, with bright flowers blossoming on the floor which now doubles as a screen. A little break does wonders because when it is time to attack the singing again, Brandon does well, unlike the second half of that marathon he has just finished.

Now what is happening to me is that *I* am getting a bit overwhelmed by this score. There is a lot going on; it's a bit too intense. We are miles away from the delicate prelude. Maybe Braunfels could have used some restraint.

Wow, he seems to have just listened to me, hehehe. The music turned delicate again right after I typed the above paragraph! Désirée thrives in this delicate part and her singing becomes really beautiful again, drawing the first applause of the night, from the public (this is interesting - the public does seem to be discerning, not applauding during the rather erratic first act (singing-wise), and the equally shaky first scene of the second act, but when the singers then recover and do well, they do applaud!

Now we get a ballet. I must say, the choreography here is very primitive and boring and the dancers are not that good - the main ballerina is actually a bit chubby which makes her heavier and less graceful. This is sometimes a problem with a ballet corps in an opera company. Obviously the really talented choreographers and dancers are working for the top ballet company in the city, not for the opera company. This ballet is not adding anything to the theatrical side of this opera, but at least it provides a much needed rest for the singers, and for the listener's ears as well, since it is soft and gentle, as compared to the aural overstimulation a couple of scenes ago. The ballet lasts for 11 minutes.

Now Prometheus comes in. Impressive, dark and solemn scene, with good singing. Brian Mulligan is excellent. Brandon who was blissfully silent for 12 minutes now is perfectly good again - in this opera, pacing is very important.

Brian is hitting this one out of the park. It's a small part, but he is delivering arguably the best singing of the evening. His resumé is rather based on the national-grade American houses (Met, SanFran, Chicago Lyric, Houston Grand, WNO) with a couple of roles abroad (Toronto, ENO); he was trained at Yale and Juilliard. One to be watched; gorgeous performance with lots of gravitas, very tuneful and precise in terms of technique.

#25, "Habt, Kindlein, vom Prometheus ihr gehört?" is 9 minutes long and the best musical number so far - simply gorgeous, of Wagnerian proportions, and Brian nailed it.

By the way, sound engineering is not so good, with some microphone placement / capture problems. Image as in almost all blu-rays is crispy and clear, and sound balance in terms of orchestra/singers is actually good - it's more a capture problem, when singers move and turn and their voices suddenly don't come out as clearly.

#30, the last number -- "So ist dies allen denn gewesen, wie?" -- is a beautiful, soaring, melodious, romantically phrased long solo aria (8 minutes) that is extremely well sung by Brandon, who recovers here the excellent singing he displayed in the first half of the first act. This actually surpasses everything that came before it, as the best musical number. My friends, it is *extremely* beautiful - I'll remember this opera because of this aria. At the end of the number, Désirée comes in with a few coloratura vocalizations, to end the opera, again back lit over bluish hues like in the opening, finishing the circle. Nice!

Curtain calls - Brandon and Désirée collected good applause, him a bit more than her (people probably had in her ears the very good #30 musical number). Cameras are poorly positioned and pick up people's heads in the public, getting in the way (a rather silly flaw that good video editing could have avoided).

Trailers: Der Zwerg, by Zemlinsky, also part of the Recovered Voice series, makes me want to buy it - looks and sounds very interesting. Edgar, by Puccini, is much less successful - first of all I don't particularly like this opera, and then, I can't stand the principal singer (José Cura) - it's a beautiful production, though. Dialogues des Carmélites, by Poulenc - well, this is a first-rate masterpiece of an opera, one of the very best, and this stark, minimalistic production looks good, although the singing is definitely rather weak, and clearly not as good as the one I just saw with Patricia Petibon. Finally, Genoveva by Schubert, again, an opera I'm not particularly fond of, and this production looks weird, with a lot of overacting. Overall, these trailers are fun to watch.

The verdict is taking shape.

Frankly, the flaws here are linked to the fact that LA Opera is not one of our best national companies, and it is generally behind the Met, SanFran, and Santa Fe, in terms of overall quality. So, there are numerous flaws and ups and downs, even when they put together a rather good show.

It's not like this product doesn't have strong points, though.

Let's start with the cons:

1. A cast that is not homogeneous. About half of the singers do well, the other half do not, and even the ones who do well have moments when they stumble with some difficult parts. Particularly weak were Stacey Tappan and James Johnson.

2. A chorus that is not as smooth and harmonious as the really good ones.

3. Boring choreography and faulty dancers in the ballet.

4. A few technical problems with mike placement (by the way, the image skipped once, early in the playback -- not a change in layer -- a problem that reviewers on Amazon also noticed), and camera placement issues during curtain calls.

5. A couple of problems in the insert/cover: absence of a synopsis, a subtitle language that is available but not mentioned, character names in German in the track list contrasting with character names in English in the credits - I know, I'm nitpicking, but attention to detail is what makes a product reach greatness; this one did not.

6. Absence of bonus features that are related to this opera (the four trailers are nice, though)


1. Generally very good singing by the two principals with just a few glitches (Brandon with problems in the very high register, and both him and her with pacing difficulties and vocal fatigue in the very long duets) - but let's be clear, even with these glitches, these two delivered very beautiful sounds most of the time.

2. Outstanding singing by one of the comprimarios (Brian Mulligan)

3. Truly excellent conducting and orchestra, with lush sounds, precise transitions, lively when needed, delicate when necessary

4. Very beautiful props and sets

5. Fabulous lighting

6. The work itself -- the opera -- is very beautiful and compelling (praise to the company for reviving it)

7. Very good essay in the insert

Neutral points

1. Decent blocking (didn't get in the way, but didn't get noticed as a clear asset either - I mean, people came in, came out, didn't bump on each other, but it wasn't fluid and harmonious - just matter-of-factly)

2. Decent acting (nothing bad, nothing great)

3. Trailers - interesting, but certain blu-rays with a larger number of compelling trailers are better, and in any case, the space could have been used for bonus material related to the opera.


The final verdict doesn't change from my First Act impression. B+, still recommended (therefore worth buying and/or watching) but barely so. The most decisive factor to buy it, is that this is a beautiful opera (two of the musical numbers are sublime). The visuals are nice. But it can't reach A grade because of too many flaws.

November 8th, 2014, 10:50 PM
^^^ So frustrating. For years I've wanted LA Opera to film more of their productions for DVD--Maximilian Schell''s beautifully stylized Rosenkavalier, Marta Domingo's Roaring Twenties Traviata, and yes, Achim Freyer's neon-surreal Ring. It's aggravating to be reminded they had no trouble filming some of their other offerings over that same period.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
November 9th, 2014, 02:41 AM
^^^ So frustrating. For years I've wanted LA Opera to film more of their productions for DVD--Maximilian Schell''s beautifully stylized Rosenkavalier, Marta Domingo's Roaring Twenties Traviata, and yes, Achim Freyer's neon-surreal Ring. It's aggravating to be reminded they had no trouble filming some of their other offerings over that same period.

And not doing so well at that.

Most of the flaws I've mentioned would have been ironed out in a filmed production by houses such as the ROH or Glyndebourne.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 30th, 2014, 01:47 AM
The Passenger on blu-ray disc

This is of enormous interest, given that this still relatively poorly known opera is allegedly a masterpiece and has been acclaimed everywhere, with productions in Bregenz, Austria (2010), Warsaw, Poland (2010), London, England (2011), Madrid, Spain (2012), Karlsruhe, Germany (2013), Houston, USA (2014), and it is coming to Chicago Lyric Opera in 2015, featuring Opera Lively interviewee Brandon Jovanovich in the leading male role of Walter (Feb 24-March 15 - tickets [here (http://www.lyricopera.org/passenger/)]) - stay tuned for Brandon's interview which has been transcribed but is pending revision/approval by the artist - he does address this piece.


The Passenger (in Russian: Passazhirka), contemporary opera in two acts, eight scenes, and one epilogue, originally sung in Russian (here in multilingual version)

Music by Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996), composed in 1967-68
Libretto in Russian by Alexander Medvedev, after the radio play Pasażerka z kabiny 45 (1959 - The Passenger from Cabin 45) in Polish by concentration camp survivor Zofia Posmysz, which she subsequently turned into a novel.

The opera was scheduled to premiere in Moscow at the Bolshoi in 1968 with a reworked libretto in German, English, Polish, Yiddish, French, Russian, and Czech; this performance was cancelled and it only premiered in concert form at the Stalisnavsky Theater in Moscow on December 25, 2006.

The fully staged world premiere was in Bregenz, Austria, at the Bregenzer Festspiele on July 21, 2010 (this is the performance on this blu-ray disc and the libretto is the multilingual version)


Wiener Symphoniker conducted by Teodor Currentzis
Prague Philharmonic Choir, chorus master Lukas Vasilek

A co-production of the Bregenzer Festspiele in Austria, the Wielki Teatr Warschau in Poland, the English National Opera in England, and the Teatro Real de Madrid in Spain

Stage director David Pountney
Set design Johan Engels
Costume design Marie-Jeanne Lecca
Lighting design Fabrice Kebour
Video director Felix Breisach


Lisa (mezzo) - Michelle Breedt
Walter (tenor) - Roberto Saccà
Marta (soprano) - Elena Kelessidi
Tadeusz (baritone) - Artur Rucinski
Katja (soprano) - Svetlana Doneva
Bronka (alto) - Liuba Sokolova

There are other 10 comprimario singing roles and 6 silent roles, which I won't list


This blu-ray disc is available on Amazon for $29: [clicky (http://www.amazon.com/Weinberg-Passenger-Blu-ray-W-Mieczyslaw/dp/B0045H5S0G/)]

It was released by NEOS/Unitel Classica/ORF in November 2010
Subtitles have the Multilingual option in which anytime there is a language change in the libretto, the subtitles are rendered in that language. There are also subtitles that keep the same language for the entire opera, with the options being German, English, French, Polish, and Russian.
Image is 1080i HD 16:9, and sound is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 for the opera, and stereo 2.0 for the bonus feature
Region zero, worldwide
Running time - opera 161 minutes, 29 minutes of bonus feature, a documentary spoken in German with English only subtitles, "In der Fremde"

The packaging is beautiful with a matte-finished box that contains the DVD in a sleeve that has 4 large color production pictures, and a book with 162 pages which contains several other color production pictures, credits, synopsis, a very high quality 2-page essay by the great Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich himself, the full libretto, and artistic biographies of all artists, all of the above repeated in German, English, French, and Polish (including the full libretto, which is therefore printed four times). This is likely the most detailed documentation I've ever seen in an operatic DVD or blu-ray disc.


This opera based on the half-true, half-fictionalized story authored by a Polish woman who was a holocaust survivor, was suppressed for almost forty years, but has been rediscovered in the mid-2000's and is going strong ever since. The plot is about a German diplomat - Walter - traveling by ship to Brazil with his beloved wife Lisa to be the next ambassador representing post-World War II West Germany, when she seems to recognize another female passenger - Marta, from cabin 45 - as one of her former prisoners. Unbeknownst to her husband and to his great horror, Lisa was a warden at Auschwitz and an SS officer, which she confesses to him in great turmoil.

This is a very powerful work. No wonder Shostakovich had it as his favorite opera, since the musical language is very close to his own. It's a beautiful and lively score that will please all lovers of modern and contemporary music, with elements of big band and jazzy touches that include an alto saxophone, and onomatopeic music that describes the several tense moments with timpani, triangle, and abrupt flute/piccolo runs, as well - since the ship is headed to Brazil - instruments such as guitar, marimba, and tambourine. Very interesting! More contemplative moments turn melodious on the strings, and percussion is used to great effect, without ever becoming overwhelming.

The sets for this staging are made of an upper part that is brightly lit and in white color depicting the deck of the ship, and a lower part that is dark and brown, which is Auschwitz. Video direction shows several closes of the singers/actors which is appropriate given the high drama and the quasi-declamatory moments and the good acting displayed by these artists. On occasion it does zoom out to give us a better view of the full stage, which also uses some projections. I'd have preferred to see the zooming out a bit more frequently.

The vocal lines are very shouty and demanding, which on occasion puts some strain in the voice of tenor Roberto Saccà, but so far he is holding it fairly together. His lady, Michelle Breedt, is handling better the contemporary vocal writing. On the other hand his timbre of voice is prettier than hers. This is a role that asks for a very good dramatic mezzo and while she is doing well with the notes and the dynamics, I'd want someone with a darker and fuller timbre.

Scene 1 ends with the ship steward (bass Richard Angas who sings and acts well) coming back from an errand Lisa demanded of him, and declaring that he found out that the passenger is British. The couple rejoices since they then believe she isn't Marta. However, an off-stage bass chorus insists that Lisa hasn't confessed everything to her husband yet. Very good first scene! We are 34 minutes into the performance. The orchestra by the way is playing beautifully, and the sound on this blu-ray disc is very good, although the image doesn't seem any better than what we see in regular DVDs.

Scene 2, in Auschwitz, starts with three SS officers chatting, followed by a melodious chorus by the prisoners which is accompanied by ominous, solemn bass lines and bells. It's all very effective. Heide Capovilla as the Senior Overseer is a weak singer, but her role is more declamatory than singing, anyway. We get to hear Marta for the first time, scrubbing the floor. Elena Kelessidi is the singer; not very impressive so far (but then, let's allow the poor woman to warm up).

A wagon pulls in and it has the bunk beds of the female prisoners. New arrivals come to the prison and a lot of dissonant singing ensues, in the various different languages spoken by the prisoners who are of different nationalities.

Ivette, the French prisoner, is sung by soprano Talia Or and unfortunately her diction in French is atrocious. "Are we nearer to freedom, or are we nearer the grave?" -- sing the prisoners. Very pungent scene; the chorus reply that the prisoners are still human. "It hurts to be human" says Bronka, alto Liuba Sokolova, who does very well.

Fast forward... I stopped posting here and kept watching. The orchestra does a couple of citations... Beethoven's 5th is very clearly recovered, and so is Parisian music of Edith Piaff - one can hear clearly "Padam! Padam! Padam!"

The orchestration is better than the vocal writing, though. The declamatory style of modern and contemporary opera works better for shorter pieces. This one is a long opera and at one point one gets a bit tired of all the pathos and the shouting.

The plot gets more and more pungent, as we see Lisa's really despicable side, when she tries to set-up Marta and her lover Thadeusz (also a prisoner) for their downfall. She tries to allow them to meet -- so that they get caught. Thadeusz reads her well and refuses... then she goes tell Lisa that Thadeusz is not interested in seeing her.

I know what is supposed to happen next but I'm not there yet. Thadeusz, who is a violinist, is supposed to play for the commander his favorite -- and boring -- waltz. Instead, he plays the Chaconne by Bach, which results in his execution.

There is some very clever play with the words in several languages... like when Ivette plays with the verb "vivre" (to live) and relates it to the word Auschwitz. There is something that resembles an aria, when Marta sings "May the golden autumn come in piece" - arguably the best moment so far. With her voice now warmed up, Elena does a beautiful job. Her Thadeusz, Artur Rucinski, is correct.

One problem with the dramatic pace is that this whole long, long succession of scenes in Auschwitz are so bleak, that they risk turning off the public - who wants to see shocking pain and suffering going on and on and on? I think this opera could use some tightening and a faster pace; it would actually have more dramatic impact because the endless repetition of the suffering actually starts to anesthetize its impact.

By the time we get to the otherwise beautiful and pungent Katja aria "You, my little valley" where she longs for the Russian motherland, we are already thinking, "please, no; no more pain!"

Svetlana Doneva, by the way, is one of the best singers in this production, and this aria is entirely sung a capella, to harrowing effect. Again, it's not that these high moments are not good - it's just that the fillers are too long, in between them.

Back to the ship, we learn that the passenger from Cabin 45 is Polish, after all, not British. Panic again for the couple. They try to forget it all in a ball, we get instruments on stage, swinging music plays... a bit of relief from the dramatic tension - but once more the enigmatic stranger shows up. Lisa runs to confront her but she disappears. Lisa walks down to the Auschwitz part of the stage, still wearing her white ball gown, and we get to scene 8 when the commander asks for the waltz but Thadeusz defies him and plays Bach instead. It starts with a violin solo, then the orchestra joins. Very beautiful (that's the scene in the picture above). The German soldiers break the violin and beat Thadeusz to death. The chorus starts singing: "Pitch black wall of death! The final sight you would see in this Earth!" Bells toll, in a musical image of funeral/death.

Epilogue, Marta, now in contemporary womanly clothes and looking pretty, sings "How silent and how still. All is at peace, and all is still" accompanied by flutes. It ends with her singing: "I will never forget you."


Documentary "In Foreign Parts" - impressive, with scenes from Auschwitz, and the real life author of the radio-play/novel being interviewed. Goose-bumping. There also scenes with the making of this production, the composer' s biography, all very interesting: one of the best bonus features in an opera video disc.

Time for the verdict:

The opera itself - beautiful score, very evocative, several moments of extreme beauty, very powerful libretto, and good dramatic impact and pace in the first few and the last few scenes, but too long in the middle scenes which decreases the impact. I'm not sure if I'd call it a masterpiece, the way it is. I might, with some cuts in the middle parts. Still, a very good opera. A-

This production:

Sets - very clever. A+
Blocking - with the large stage, not much difficulty there but no opportunity to shine either. A
Lighting design - could be more imaginative; other than the ship being brightly lit and Auschwitz being dark, not much variation. B-
Costumes - efficient. Having Marta on the ship wear a veil at all times was a good idea. A
Stage direction - Very good. A++
Acting - Excellent across the board with not a single performer being less than very accomplished. A++
Singing - Extremely uneven, from truly excellent to very weak and everything in between. B+
Chorus - very good. A+
Orchestra - Excellent. A++
Bonus feature - A++
Sound - A
Image - B+
Video Direction - no shenannigans but too many close-ups. B
Packaging - A+
Insert - one of the most complete ever. A++

Overall score, A+, very recommended. It does transcend the niche of contemporary opera and has a more universal appeal. This is a beautiful historical document with outstanding documentation and bonus feature, of a beautiful opera (although the piece itself could use some tightening) in a generally very good production in spites of some downsides such as uneven singing.

I believe that his work if done right with a few judicious cuts and a more homogeneously good cast can reach masterpiece proportion.

December 30th, 2014, 03:40 AM
One of my favorite recent fiction favorite, Victor the Assassin, who likes the classics when not doing his thing, opined that no decent music has been written since the early 20th century. Art restorer Gabriel Allon plays (only) Puccini when restoring the great masters. While I like Mozart, my opera focus is 19th century Italy, and try as I might, I cannot connect with modern stuff. The three essentials of music that I was taught, melody, harmony and rythym are missing the first two in modern music, at least to these ears.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
December 30th, 2014, 05:43 AM
One of my favorite recent fiction favorite, Victor the Assassin, who likes the classics when not doing his thing, opined that no decent music has been written since the early 20th century.

Well, that's just not true, in my opinion. If you listen to Peter Grimes, Dialogue des Carmélites, L'Enfant et les Sortilèges, War and Peace, St. François d'Assise, Porgy and Bess, Satyagraha, Doctor Atomic, L'Amour de Loin, and Written on Skin to name just a few, you'll see that great opera continued to be composed after Puccini.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
February 1st, 2015, 10:40 PM
Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamné, opera in two acts and an intermezzo, 2009, music by David Alagna, libretto by David Alagna, Roberto Alagna (the famous tenor) and Fédérico Alagna, based on the homonymous short novel by Victor Hugo, sung in French

I'm not reviewing this after the existing CD or the existing DVD, but rather from this YouTube clip where it is complete, but with another tenor in the title role (the role was written for and created by Roberto Alagna).


I don't have the time for a complete review (Super Bowl is about to start, hehe, and I'm busy with other things while I watch this). You guys can see the credits right at the beginning of the video clip. If you search Amazon you will find the CD.

I'm just interested in saying a few words about this opera.

It is rather good. It starts with long, declamatory lamentations by two death roll inmates, one on the left of the stage,a male, in the 19th century, who will be put to death by guillotine, and one, a female, who will die of a lethal injection in contemporary times. The left side of the stage is dark and derelict; the right side is lit with bright white lights, and is aseptic like a hospital room.

This first scene is over-long and gets boring with the endless repetition of the two condemned characters lamenting their sort. It's the only thing I didn't like about this opera. It should have lasted one third of its duration.

Otherwise, when this ends, everything picks up pace and theatricality, and the piece becomes quite compelling.

The music is entirely tonal, something rare in contemporary opera. The orchestration is very dense and rich (also rare). The piece has significant emotional impact and is cleverly staged.

In this clip, the artists are good in voice and acting, especially the male, and comprimarios are pretty good.

Overall I give to this opera a grade of A, recommended. It's solidly good. Not an astounding masterpiece like A++ Written on Skin, and not A+ because of the lack of pace in the over-long first scene, but otherwise a solid A.

March 22nd, 2015, 04:22 PM
Saariaho: L'Amour de loin
Directed by Peter Sellars
Dawn Upshaw, Monica Groop & Gerald Finley
Finnish National Opera, Esa-Pekka Salonen


This is a very good opera and a very good DVD. It is hovering between this thread and the desert island DVDs thread.

I'm going to stop saying "a must for all Gerald Finley fans" until he sends me a free ticket to his next London gig but his performance and Dawn Upshaw and Monica Groop are all brilliant here.

The opera is a good old fashioned love story, in fact it's so old it is based on a tale from the twelfth century. It has the does he/she love me, what did he/she say, shall I call him/her first (oh okay, I made that last bit up) of all young love stories set to some fantastic music with a very organic feel. It is quite intense, almost relentless with the attention is draws, all the way through changing from quite dramatic emotions to soft romances with a range of colours in between.

The stage is quite brilliant here too (everything about this is brilliant), complimenting the music and story very well and is visually very exciting (and if I had a Chelsea footballer's mansion I would want that boat in my living room).

Oh so thrilling.

March 24th, 2015, 12:26 AM
Anyone here have a recommendation for Berg's Lulu available on CD? I have the Boulez version on DG on vinyl and really love it. :) Any newer recordings are good?

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
March 24th, 2015, 12:35 AM
Anyone here have a recommendation for Berg's Lulu available on CD? I have the Boulez version on DG on vinyl and really love it. :) Any newer recordings are good?

I'm not a CD kind of guy. I really love Barbara Hannigan's performance in the Brussels production that has just been released on DVD:


November 29th, 2015, 07:24 PM
Thanks for this thread! I'm rather limited in that I don't own a TV, so I have to settle for CDs. Anyway, Tippett's Midsummer Marriage sounds wonderful. The tenor vocalist is terrific!

The Saariaho opera contains some very enchanting and beautiful music. It doesn't even need the vocals.

I keep reading great things about the Messiaen, but it hasn't clicked yet. I'll try it again sometime.

I bought the Hartmann opera, and two Schreker operas, so I'm looking forward to those.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
November 30th, 2015, 03:38 AM
I'm rather limited in that I don't own a TV

Why not buy one just for this purpose? Best Buy has 19" TVs for less than $80. Walmart has DVD players for $25.

November 30th, 2015, 03:56 AM
Why not buy one just for this purpose? Best Buy has 19" TVs for less than $80. Walmart has DVD players for $25.

A flat screen HD TV is inexpensive at any of our MI Best Buy or ABCs. That investment allows you to play Blu ray discs and have amazing opera right in your home!

December 3rd, 2015, 03:39 AM
Why not buy one just for this purpose? Best Buy has 19" TVs for less than $80. Walmart has DVD players for $25.

It's not really a matter of finances. But I've really enjoyed not having a TV in the house since I tossed my old analog model. This way I read more instead of sitting in front of the tube. Maybe when I retire and have more time, I'll put together an entertainment system.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 18th, 2016, 11:59 PM
I Shardana on DVD - Italian Regie from Cagliari!


I Shardana, gli uomini dei Nuraghi - dramma musicale in three acts, sung in Italian
Music by Ennio Porrino (1910-1959)
Libretto by the composer

Premiered on March 21, 1959, at Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Italy

Orchestra and Chorus of the Fondazione Teatro Lirico di Cagliari
Conducted by Anthony Bramall
Chorus Master Marco Faelli

Stage Director Davide Livermore
Lighting Designer Loïc François Hamelin
Costume Designer Marco Nateri
Sets Giò Forma Production Design
Video Design D-Wok
Video Director Davide Mancini

Recorded live at the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, Italy, on September 24 and 27, 2013

DVD by Dynamic, 2015 (also available on blu-ray disc) - NTSC 16:9, sound PCM 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1, 114 minutes, no extras. Region zero (worldwide), subtitles in Italian, English, French, German, Japanese, and Korean. Insert with a 2 and a 1/2 page essay in Italian with rather good musical commentary, and a 1-page synopsis, repeated in Italian and English, 5 production pictures in color, list of musical numbers with titles and characters, but no duration. Technically speaking, sound and image are good, and video direction is adequate.


Gonnario - Manrico Signorini
Torbeno - Angelo Villari
Orzocco - Ginapiero Ruggeri
Norace - Domenico Balzani
Bèrbera Jonia - Paoletta Marrocu
Nibatta - Allessandra Palomba
Perdu - Gabriele Mangione
Plus, seven other very small roles
Special Guest - Elena Ledda


From the capital of Sardinia we get this DVD/Blu-ray of the obscure opera by one of the island's sons, modernist composer Ennio Porrino.

Mixed feelings about this one, given that it has some extraordinary assets, but also some striking shortcomings.

Porrino's claim to fame is his symphonic poem Sardegna, which is very beautiful. He was one of Resphighi's disciples, and finished Resphighi's opera Lucrezia after the master's death. While Porrino's orchestration is extremely compelling, one wonders how well he grasped the operatic medium, because his vocal writing is way more tentative than his instrumental parts. This is made painfully evident in I Shardana (his last work, 6 months before his death), which contains some sublime instrumental and choral music (really - some of the chorus scenes are goosebumps-grade in their extreme beauty), but also some loud, strident vocal lines that seem at odds with the underlying orchestration. The moments when the score allows the singers to go piano are the best bits, but the predominantly loud, sustained vocal lines hurt one's ears.

This is not helped in this production by some rather mediocre singers, especially Paoletta Marrocu who has an unpleasant, shrill voice, can't act, and shows no chemistry with Angelo Villari, in spite of the fact that the libretto indicates some rather explicitly sensual dialogue between the two of them. By the way, Mr. Villari is not a good singer either. Actually the secondary roles fare a lot better - and the chorus does extremely well, saving the day. The orchestra is good.

While mentioning the libretto, it reminds me of another problem with this work - do you know the feeling when you watch a B or C movie with rather bad writing? Libretto writing by this composer is definitely not his forte. Some of the lines are tacky and devoid of literary quality. The characters are poorly developed and uninteresting (we never get to care that much about what happens to these people). Pace is not that good - there are some unnecessarily long scenes and some rushed ones. There are too many characters for a short run time. This is not a theatrically-sound work.

So, musically speaking, it's really a hit-and-miss affair: the orchestra and the chorus do well with Porrino's rather beautiful music (and like I said some choral parts are mind-bogglingly beautiful especially in the third act), but the singers sink the ship while dealing with some very iffy lines and questionable vocal writing. Maybe Mr. Porrino should have stuck with oratorios and instrumental pieces. It seems like he tried to emulate Wagner with some of the shouty lines. Mr. Porrino: you are no Wagner.

Now, the production is very curious and while not without some downsides, it is actually an asset in terms of this DVD being a recommended purchase.

First of all, those like me who enjoy some cough cough assets cough cough are in for a treat. This is arguably the most female nudity I've ever seen in an operatic work. Very shapely nude dancers are everywhere, all the time, throughout the entire opera. Frankly it's a bit overwhelming and distracting.

Second, the projections are very successful, and convey effectively the menacing waters surrounding the island. Some moments are not only original, but also strikingly beautiful. Props (with some Bronze Age artwork), costumes, make-up, and masks are very nice.

Still, they tend to overstay their welcome. At one point, it is just too much visual stimulation (and there is a rather violent touch). The rocky platform on the center of the stage could use some less spinning. It gets dizzying, and one is about to shout "enough is enough."

The production is definitely on the Regie side, something that is very rare in Italian shows. Some of the tropes of the genre say present - this is supposed to be in pre-historical Sardinia (this production has Bronze Age props), but of course the anachronistic contemporary clothes make an appearance, while all the dancers do look pre-historical with muddy body paint. By the way, when a director goes for a Regie concept, it's good to get some cast members who can act. These can't. The acting in this show is extremely cheesy, like a bad soap opera. And what in the hell did they mean by the three silent nuns gesticulating as in sign language (sort of), on the left side of the stage? Go figure.

Anyway, I hesitate in recommending this DVD. It's really a 50% thing. Again, Mr. Porrino is a good composer but not a good opera composer/librettist. The ups are some beautiful instrumental and choral music, interesting visuals to a certain degree before they get tiresome, and hugely attractive and pervasive naked female dancers. The downs are the bad vocal writing, the awful singing, the cheesy acting, and the weak libretto that is not theatrically sound. Overall, B-.

January 19th, 2016, 12:08 AM
I hope the music is a whooooooooole lot better than that cover picture.


I'm shallow

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 19th, 2016, 01:17 AM
I hope the music is a whooooooooole lot better than that cover picture.


I'm shallow

Actually the cover picture contains a scene from the projections. It works better on stage (it's darker, larger, and moving). The music like I said is a mixed bag.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
March 6th, 2016, 10:15 PM
New opera by Mark Abel, contemporary California composer


This Delos release is scheduled for a few days from now, on 3/16/16. We got an early copy for review. It is the world premiere recording of a contemporary opera by Californian composer Mark Abel. The CD also contains the excellent song cycle The Palm Trees Are Restless, reviewed separately [here (http://operalively.com/forums/showthread.php/2668-Song-cycle-The-Palm-Trees-are-Restless-by-Mark-Abel)].

Home is a Harbor, opera in three acts, sung in English
Music by Mark Abel
Libretto by Mark Abel

Studio recording
La Brea Sinfonietta conducted by Benjamin Makino


Jamie Chamberlin, soprano - Lisa
Ariel Pisturino, soprano - Laurie
Babatunde Akinboboye, baritone - Lance
E. Scott Levin, baritone - Leo, Liam
Janelle DeStefano, mezzo - Linda, Lenore
Jon Lee Keenan, tenor - Larry
Carver Cossey, bass - Lou

Mark Abel has a number of interesting pieces to his name. He has released previous CDs: "The Dream Gallery," and "Terrain of the Heart." The song cycle included in the current CD is his fourth. Home is a Harbor is his first opera.

He was a rock musician and lyricist as a young man, and later explored modern jazz. However he had always appreciated classical music since his childhood, and after turning to a journalistic career, he decided to become a composer of "serious music."

His style naturally blends influences from all three genres - rock, jazz, and classical. For example, in this opera, he quotes Shostakovich's 15th Symphony, and a phrase from Charlie Haden's bass solo on Denny Zeitlin's jazz trio "Mirage."

The themes covered by the libretto are set to the years between 2005 and 2011. Twin sisters born in a coastal California community, Morro Bay, are the leading characters for this piece that shows their coming-of-age stories, in a slice-of-life pattern. One, Lisa, goes to NYU to become a visual artist, drops out of school, enjoys some success in the Soho and Brooklyn art scenes selling her paintings, but becomes disillusioned with the frivolity of the milieu (and with her superficial boyfriend Larry) and returns to Morro Bay. The other one, Laurie, goes to a local community college then transfers to Cal Poly, and subsequently works in real state for a shady businessman, Liam. She becomes equally turned off by her boss' unethical practices and also returns to Morro Bay. Her boyfriend Lance enlists in the Army and comes back from Afghanistan maimed and disfigured, becoming a pain-killer addict, and a homeless Vet. The sisters, shocked with these developments, decide to form an organization to aid homeless Vets. Other comprimario characters include Lou, an elderly black poet; the twins' parents Leo and Linda; Lenore, an art dealer, The Yowler, an untalented ukulele player and singer; a nurse at the VA hospital; and a bum.

The runtime is approximately 100 minutes. The package comes with an insert that contains several color pictures of California landscapes and the cast members/conductor/composer, with their brief artistic biographies. The full libretto is provided, as well as the text for the five poems set to music in the accompanying song cycle. There is a two-page introductory text, and a two-page composer's note, as well as a synopsis. The opera was recorded in July 2015. To date, I'm not aware of a staging or a concert performance.

The opera is scored for a chamber orchestra - flute, alto flute, piccolo, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, flugelhorn, piano, sampled celesta, cimbalom, cello, bass, vibraphone, percussion, and... an organ, which provides the big sounds for the more dramatic scenes, and it sometimes plays with the double bass. Synthetic sounds also appear, including iPhone ringing tones.

Spoken dialogues happen from time to time but mostly the vocal writing is in parlando / arioso structure. There are numerous jazzy and "rocky" moments.

First operas are never an easy task. This one does have merits. It is lively and varied. It is utterly modern in sounds and themes. It is sufficiently compact, with no longueurs. The piece also suffers from some shortcomings. Vocal writing is not as inspired as the composer is surely capable of doing, which is well proven by his much more compelling song cycle that follows the opera. The first act appears a bit musically directionless (granted, the characters' lives are depicted as such in the first act so the music does match the idea). Second act picks up a bit, with an interesting act 2 scene 3 in a night club, and especially act 2 scene 4 in the VA hospital, which contains the best musical ideas. Act 3 has a somewhat over-busy simultaneous/alternating scene with the two sisters in different locations and interacting with different characters, but it does have some clever overlaps. Act 3 scene 2, while being the longest (and final) scene, paradoxically seems rushed with a character arc that is a bit under-developed.

The singers do well across the board in terms of beautiful voice timbre, good technique with nice pitch control, and range. I particularly liked Ms. Jamie Chamberlain. They do suffer when compared with the spectacular job done by the excellent Hila Plitmann in the song cycle. What the latter has more than the singers for the opera, is musicality and passion in the phrasing of the lines. Conceivably, if two singers of her stature had performed the two leading roles in the opera, the impact would have been bigger.

In summary, this is a valid effort that should encourage the composer to keep writing operas, but it could use some enhancements. I'll give it 3 stars out of 5. I'd imagine that with subsequent workshops, rehearsals, and adaptations for a staging, this opera could get to a 4-star rating. Often a first opera when released is still a work-in-progress and can be improved.

While the opera has ups and downs, the purchase of this CD is recommended anyway, especially due to the sublime song cycle that in itself justifies the buy.

Besides, we've just learned that the composer will donate part of the sales revenue to organizations that help Veterans, and this is highly commendable, and greatly endears the composer to me.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
April 9th, 2016, 04:58 PM
Claude, opera in one prologue, sixteen scenes, two inter-scenes, and one epilogue, sung in French
Music by Thierry Escaich
Libretto by Robert Badinter, after Victor Hugo's short story Claude Gueux (1834) which is in its turn based on true events that happened in 1826 in the French town of Troyes
Premiered on March 27, 2013 at Opéra de Lyon, France


Commissioned by the Opéra de Lyon

DVD filmed at Opéra de Lyon in April 2013, a BelAir Classiques release in 2015

Orchestre de L'Opéra de Lyon conducted by Jérémie Rhorer
Choeur de L'Opéra de Lyon, chorus master Alan Woodbridge

Stage Direction by Olivier Py
Sets and Costumes by Pierre André-Weitz
Lighting by Bertrand Killy
Choreography by Daniel Izzo
Video Production by Antoine Perset and Denis Morlière
Video Direction by Vincent Massip


Claude - Jean-Sébasten Bou
The Director - Jean-Philippe Lafont
Albin - Rodrigo Ferreira
The Entrepreneur / The Head Warden - Laurent Alvaro
First Character / First Warden - Rémy Mathieu
Second Character / Second Warden - Philip Sheffield

Runtime 97 minutes (opera) + 26 minutes (bonus interview with Thierry Escaich and Robert Badinter by Anne Sinclair)
Region code zero (all)
Subtitles in French and English
Video: 1 DVD9 NTSC 16:9
Audio: PCM 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1

Booklet: 11 color production pictures + 1 picture with the composer, the librettist, the stage director, and the director L'Opéra de Lyon. Credits, list of musical numbers and duration of each number, scene-by-scene synopsis in three pages, and one page describing the psychological arc of each of the four main characters and the two commentators. This is all repeated in French and English.


This is not for the faint of heart, since it depicts very realistically life in a male prison, which includes rape, homosexuality, and violent brutality. It is based upon a short story by Victor Hugo on themes of societal injustice, which he would much more extensively address 30 years later in Les Misérables. The short story is about a petty thief who steals to feed his family. He is caught and sent for five years to a prison where he is abused and ends up killing the prison's director, resulting in his execution.

In the opera Claude is sentenced to seven years of hard labor, and the injustice of the situation is further underlined by the fact that he is not a thief, but rather a worker downsized by the machine-driven industrial revolution. He engages in strikes/protests and is arrested when he fires shots at the police in a barricade. All of these events precede the opera's timeline, and are narrated by the two commentators in the prologue.

The countertenor role of Albin is that of a fellow prisoner who is being brutally gang raped, which Claude interrupts by fighting with the rapists. Albin is tiny and daily gives half of his bread to Claude, a bigger man who needs more food. This results in Claude protecting Albin from the other prisoners. Ambiguous homo-erotic feelings develop between the three man, which is exploited by the sadistic Director, who makes a point of trying to break Claude's leadership among the prisoners. He separates Claude and Albin, which finally makes Claude snap and kill him. Another difference between the opera and the literary source is that there is no ambiguity whatsoever in the homosexual relationship between Claude and Albin in the opera, since they are seen having sex with each other.

The contemporary music in this work is interesting. The orchestration often relies on ominous and suspenseful strings that are quite beautiful, with abrupt bursts of metals and percussion that appropriately reproduce the noises of the machines used for forced labor (which are metaphorically shown as just some wooden wheels as props) and the various noises in the hectic and violent everyday prison life.

The chorus is used to striking effect, adding a ghostly and dreamy aural landscape. Vocal writing as it is often the case in contemporary opera is restrained to parlando lines, giving more of an impression of spoken stage theater with musical background. However, given the more melodious chorus lines and the pulsating, resonant strings and percussion, I'd say that the score is quite successful.

The Orchestre de L'Opéra de Lyon does a good job, and the chorus is excellent. However countertenor Rodrigo Ferreira is definitely not a good one. After being spoiled by the high singing quality of artists such as Philippe Jaroussky, Andreas Scholl, and Bejun Mehta among others, I came to expect a lot from countertenors and unfortunately Mr. Ferreira doesn't make the grade, which is a major obstacle for the enjoyment of this recording, at least for someone like me who is a big fan of countertenor singing.

Baritone Jean-Sébastien Bou who sings the title role is better than his colleague, but is not outstanding. He is able to produce the notes and to manage the forceful low-register singing (although with limited projection), but I just don't find his timbre of voice to be that compelling. Acting-wise he generally does well but needs to better control his eyes. He often looks at the camera or otherwise away from where he should be looking, which is distracting.

Jean-Philippe Lafont is a better actor, portraying a convincingly sadistic and harsh prison director. His voice wobbles a little which is not too bad given that his character is supposed to be an older man.

Sets and costumes are stark and in tones of gray and brown. They are very effective in terms of what is expected from a bleak prison. Lighting, congruent with that, is very dark. Image definition is good on this DVD. Film direction is quite accomplished, managing well close-ups versus panning and zooming out.

Olivier Py's production is competent and with some clever solutions. Rotating sets bring in a stack of prison cells that are very realistic, and other environments within the prison that are believable. The use of the two narrators (the First Character and the Second Character) enhances the literary quality of the work (an effect similar to what Martin Crimp accomplished in his text for George Benjamin's Written on Skin - although WoS is a much better opera than this one).

In terms of theatrical possibilities, the main issue with this opera is that it extends for 97 minutes a short story, likely for longer than what is warranted by the rather static situation. We get to see despair, pain, typical prison violence and sadism... then we get to see despair, pain, typical prison violence and sadism. Finally, as the opera progresses we then get to see despair, pain, typical prison violence and sadism.

You get my point. Most likely this work would have been more impressive if it had adopted a length more akin to that of a chamber opera or a one-act piece, rather than... one prologue, sixteen scenes, two inter-scenes, and an epilogue!

The second half of the show improves upon the first half, starting with the director's murder, followed by a beautiful moment in which a female ballerina is seen dancing while sparkling pieces of paper fall from the top. The work becomes good at this point, theatrically and visually. It's the long build-up to it in the previous prison scenes that is excessive.

The interview conducted by the great French journalist Mme. Anne Sinclair is interesting.

In summary, as far as contemporary opera goes, I've seen better. It's a good score with interesting orchestration and choruses, and it is a good production by Olivier Py, but theatrically it could use some tightening and shortening, and this particular performance is marred by less-than-ideal singing.

This could be very good in another staging, with some cuts (such as bringing the scenes to 10 instead of 16+4) and better singers. Musically the opera deserves an "A" rating and is better than most contemporary operas, but the librettist should have shrunk it a bit. During the interview the librettist when confronted by the journalist who also noted the repetition and the longueur said that he was faithful to Hugo's work. But no, Mr. Badinter! The best librettos for operas are synthetic. The written work can afford longer descriptions, but the key in terms of writing an effective libretto is to make it more economical, and to rely on the music for some of the expressed ideas. By the way that's exactly what the composer said in the interview, and he did say that he asked for some cuts. He should have asked for more cuts!

As it is, I still give it a "B+" rating: recommended, but only to lovers of contemporary opera.

A postcript: it is interesting to notice that according to the composer and the librettist in the interview, this opera was surely based on Claude Gueux, but was also inspired by Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamné, another work by Victor Hugo. Well, there is an opera based on the latter text, composed by Roberto Alagna's brother, David Alagna. I find that Alagna's opera is far superior to this one.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
May 12th, 2016, 12:54 AM
Der zerbrochene Krug, opera in one act, sung in German (1941/42), on blu-ray disc
Music by Viktor Ullmann (1898-1944)
Libretto by the composer, based on a play of the same name by Heinrich von Kleist


Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by James Conlon, chorus master Grant Gershon
Concertmaster Stuart Canin
A production of Los Angeles Opera, recorded live on March 1 and 8, 2008

Stage director Darko Tresnjak
Set Designer Ralph Funicello
Costume Designer Linda Cho
Lighting Designer David Weiner


Adam - James Johnson
Licht - Bonaventura Bottone
Walter - Steven Humes
Frau Marthe Hull - Elizabeth Bishop
Eve - Melody Moore
Veit Trümpel - Jason Stearns
Ruprecht - Richard Cox
Frau Brigitte - Natasha Flores
First Maid - Rena Harms
Second Maid - Lauren McNeese
A Servant - Ryan McKinny


LA Opera produced this opera by Jewish composer Viktor Ullmann who was killed in a concentration camp, as part of their series of these lost works banned by the Nazis. The initiative is commendable but the work is rather minor and musically unappealing. The main character Judge Adam in this unfunny comedy is well sung and acted, but other artists aren't as good. The sets are realistic and costumes are good. The orchestra soldiers on playing this fragmented score that sounds a bit like film sound track music. It's a very short work, 35 minutes. Frankly I find it forgettable.

Documentation is faulty. There are no mention of characters in the list of musical numbers. No synopsis. There is a short essay that isn't exactly very informative.

This ArtHaus Musik release on blu-ray comes in double bill with Der Zwerg by Zemlinsky a longer and better known work. PCM Stereo, DTS Master Audio 5.1, subtitles in German, English, French, Spanish, and Italian. Region Worldwide. Overall, B minus, not recommended.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
May 15th, 2016, 11:36 PM
Der Zwerg, opera in one act, sung in German, on blu-ray disc
Music by Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942)
Libretto by Georg G. Klaren, after Oscar Wilde's play The Birthday of the Infanta (1891)
Premiered in 1922 at Cologne Opera

Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by James Conlon, chorus master Grant Gershon
Concertmaster Stuart Canin
A production of Los Angeles Opera, recorded live on March 1 and 8, 2008

Stage director Darko Tresnjak
Set Designer Ralph Funicello
Costume Designer Linda Cho
Lighting Designer David Weiner


The Dwarf - Rodrick Dixon
Donna Clara (Infanta of Spain) - Mary Dunleavy
Ghita - Susan B. Anthony
Don Esteban - James Johnson
First Maid - Melody Moore
Second Maid - Lauren McNeese
Third Maid - Elizabeth Bishop
First Playmate - Karen Vuong
Second Playmate - Rena Harms

Documentation is faulty. There are no mention of characters in the list of musical numbers. No synopsis. There is a short essay (by Conlon) that is better about Der Zwerg than the part about the previous opera (more informative and better written).

This ArtHaus Musik release on blu-ray comes in double bill with Der zerbrochene Krug by Ullmann, reviewed above. PCM Stereo, DTS Master Audio 5.1, subtitles in German, English, French, Spanish, and Italian. Region Worldwide.



This is way superior to the companion work on this blu-ray disc. This opera is musically much more interesting, theatrically more satisfying, psychologically richer, and the staging is better, with better use of the space (in terms of depth and perspective). The period costumes are gorgeous. Choreography and blocking work well. James Johnson sings beautifully. Mary Dunleavy is cute (her voice is good too) although not very convincing as the young Infanta (age-wise).

I'm less impressed with the singer in the title role, Rodrick Dixon, who overacts a bit and seems to strain his voice in the more forceful passages, and his phrasing is sort of harsh and halting. Well, reading it like this one will assume he is a disaster. He isn't. The end result is still not bad. Susan Anthony has a difficult role in terms of vocal range. She does not always pass it with flying colors and is the weakest link in this performance.

It is a very beautiful opera that deserves more productions (it is part of this season at Teatro São Pedro in Brazil, the house we covered extensively a month ago). It is in part autobiographic since the composer was a short man who lost the love of his life because she found him too ugly.

I'd say it's a gem of a show, with an overall A+ grade that amply compensates for the bland double bill offering. While I found the first one not recommended, this one is very much recommended and justifies the purchase of this product even though it is not particularly cheap ($35 on Amazon).

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
May 27th, 2016, 09:42 PM
Aribert Reimann's Medea on blu-ray disc


Medea, opera in four pictures, sung in German (2010)
Music and libretto by Aribert Reimann, based on the play by Franz Grillparzer, in itself based on Euripides

World Premiere, recorded live at Vienna State Opera, 2010
Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper conducted by Michael Boder
Stage Direction, Sets, and Lighting Design by Marco Arturo Marelli
Costumes by Dagmar Niefind


Medea - Marlis Petersen
Kreusa - Michaela Selinger
Gora - Elisabeth Culman
Kreon - Michael Roider
Jason - Adrian Eröd
Herold - Max Emanuel Cencic


I've demonstrated here my love for contemporary opera time and again, so when I don't like one of them I can't be suspected of just not getting it or not having my ears prepared for it. I'm generally willing to accept the declamatory nature of vocal writing in most contemporary operas, and I'm usually not bothered by the current style that privileges fragmented drama over melodies and harmonic musical approach.

Sorry, Mr. Reimann, but this one I can't really endorse.

Vocal writing is probably the most fundamental part of contemporary opera in terms of "make it or break it." Because, see, the orchestral part shouldn't differ very much from instrumental-only pieces of contemporary music, which I love. The trick is to add the vocal writing in a way that is compelling and blends well with everything else. That's exactly why opera is difficult to compose, because not always this marriage is successfully achieved.

It seems like certain contemporary composers when trying their hand at opera will just do the following: get the prospective singers' ranges, and write lines that go from the lowest to the highest note and back, and mark it all fortissimo, resulting in constant screaming, shouting, and yelling.

Sorry, but it doesn't work. It gets old soon. Sure, it matches the usual dramatic intensity of the contemporary style, but if you just want your singers to scream *all the time* over and over and over, what's exactly the point?

This is precisely what the good ones like Written on Skin do NOT do. Sure, they have their screaming moments, but they also have delicacy, pianissimi, and melodic beauty in other parts. There is contrast. There is nuance. There is progression. The fragmented, shouting moments make sense, and occur when the drama is most intense and asks for them.

Do it all the time, and you lose all coherence, all sense.

Albert Reimann's Medea is a screaming feast. I doubt that human beings over two hours of even a very dramatic situation like Medea's and Jason's would be constantly screaming. Surely they might speak normally to each other from time to time?

The orchestration is fine. It is rather compelling with intense rolling thundering sounds and percussion, but the vocal writing is atrocious.

The Vienna State Opera got a visually impressive production: a lunar landscape with the bleak and gray rocky surroundings matching well Medea's despair, with a modern-looking upper part of the stage rendering the idealized Corinth to where Medea would like to be admitted.

Singers try their best. I wonder how much fatigue this vocal writing must generate. Marlis Petersen is a force of nature and she just keeps going, and is a gifted actress. No one else in this cast approaches her proficiency, but nobody sinks the ship either.

I'm writing this review mid-way, some 55 minutes into this opera that has a running time of 1h 53'. Maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe it will improve.

But as of now, I give to this piece a B- rating, not recommended.

PS - The last ten minutes, the screaming stopped, and then it did get beautiful. See, Mr. Reimann? You can do it. Due to the last ten minutes, I'm upgrading my rating to B.


A 2010 ArtHaus Music release on 25GB single layer blu-ray disc, 1080i full HD, PCM Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, running time 113 minutes, no extras other than trailers, subtitles in German, English, French, Spanish, and Italian. The booklet contains credits, list of musical numbers with characters and duration, a 1-page synopsis, an informative 4-page essay by Andreas Láng repeated in English, French, and German, one color picture and 4 black-and-white pictures. Sound and image are great.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
June 18th, 2016, 08:51 PM
Luci Mie Traditrici on DVD

I'll attend in person the Infektion! Festival of New Music presentation of this opera by the Berlin Staatsoper, on July 10, 2016, officially representing Opera Lively. I am scheduled to interview the two principal singers and the conductor, and maybe, pending confirmation, also the stage director (Jürgen Flimm). So stay tuned for my review of the live show, and the interviews with mezzo-soprano Katharina Kammerloher, bass-baritone Otto Katzameier, and conductor David Robert Coleman.

Meanwhile, let's review the opera on DVD. This is the third recorded version of this very successful contemporary opera; the other two are on CD, the preferred one being the version released by the label Kairos with the same Otto Katzameier singing the male lead; the Klangforum Wien orchestra is conducted by Beat Furrer, with the female lead being Annette Stricker. Here is a link to that CD on Amazon that sells for $28: [clicky (https://www.amazon.com/Luci-mie-traditrici-Annette-Stricker/dp/B00005JSJH/)]
And here is the link to this DVD, selling for $20: [clicky (https://www.amazon.com/Luci-Mie-Traditrici-Sciarrino/dp/B006ZV6Y8A/)]


Luci Mie Traditrici, Opera in due atti, premiered in 1998, sung in Italian (short prologue sung in French)
Also know as The Killing Flower (the composer's proposed alternative English title, which does not translate the Italian title, which means My Betraying Eyes)
Music by Salvatore Sciarrino (1947- )
Libretto by Salvatore Sciarrino, after Il Tradimento per L'Onore by Giacinto Andrea Cicognini, 1664, and an eulogy by Claude Le Jeune, 1608


Ensemble Algoritmo conducted by Marco Angius
Christian Pade, stage director
Giancarlo Matcovich, producer
Agnes Eggers, dramaturgy
Alexander Lintl, scenery and costumes
Mauro Milani, stage design
Gianni Trabalzini, lighting design
Dobora Vrizzi, camera
Aline Hervé, editing


Nina Tarandek (La Malaspina)
Christian Miedl (Il Malaspina)
Roland Schneider (L’Ospite)
Simon Bode (Un Servo)

A co-production of Oper Frankfurt and the Cantiere Internazionale d'Arte di Montepulciano, recorded live in Montepulciano, Italy, on July 29-31 and August 1, 2010

A 2012 DVD release by EuroArts, region code zero (worldwide), NTSC color 16:9, sound PCM stereo, subtitles in Italian, English, German, French, and Chinese. Running Time 69 minutes (opera) + 33 minutes (bonus).

The bonus feature contains an extensive "Making Of" documentary including Sciarrino himself explaining his opera, and interviews with the singers and the production team.

The insert contains two color and five black-and-white production pictures, credits, list of musical numbers with characters and duration, a two-and-a-half page essay on the opera and the composer by David Patmore which includes a brief synopsis and is repeated in English, German, and French. It is to be noted that the version on CD I've mentioned above contains the full libretto.


Salvatore Sciarrino is a contemporary composer of avant-garde opera and other musical genres, who lives in his native Italy in the Citta di Castella in Perugia, and teaches composition at the Florence conservatory. He is a prestigious composer who has held several faculty appointments in Palermo and Milan, and has received several prizes, with a catalog of more than 130 pieces (one of the most extensive body of works among contemporary composers). According to him, in addition to having been a disciple of Franco Evangelisti's, Stockhausen was a major influence on his music.

This is one of many of his avant-garde operas, played here by an ensemble of soloists specialized in contemporary music. Luci Mie Traditrici has been staged several times throughout Europe since its premiere. It used to be seen complete on YouTube in a very powerful staging at the Opéra de Lyon with Maria Riccarda Wesseling and the same Otto Katzameier I'll be seeing live, which unfortunately is no longer there. I very much liked that production (better than this one I'm reviewing here). A scene of that production can still be seen here:


Sciarrino's music is very unique, especially his vocal writing, often using long extensions of the vowels and short bursts of the other syllables, completely altering the dynamics of the words, with added complex melismas. These techniques are not only intriguing, but also convey a very Italianate melodic sense. The orchestration and instrumental parts are vanishing and phantasmagorical, and evoke blowing winds, breathing, neighing horses, sounds of nature (birds, insects), and percussion. Silence occurs often, which then goes from this state of zero sounds to a multitude of microscopic sounds and whispers and soft noises that seem to reproduce the sonorous real-life universe that surrounds the characters.

The result in my opinion is *extremely* powerful. It starts with the exquisite, sensitive, and poetic libretto, which makes use of very short phrases, at times one-word sentences that parade in rapid succession, but still manage to perfectly convey the strong feelings that the characters of this opera are going through. Then, the music impacts on the work a very realistic sense of dread and doom, of emotional intensity and impending tragedy - affects like love, fear, jealousy, lust, horror are very well tone-painted.

The piece can be read and heard like a growing nightmare. It makes me think of Verdi's Otello, in its claustrophobic and inexorable progression to the shocking last scene. Of course, the musical structure of these two works couldn't be more different, but the atmosphere is quite similar. The musical style on the other hand reminds me of another piece I like a lot, Itinerário do Sal by Portuguese contemporary composer Miguel Azguimes. While Azguime's opera is even more adventurous and makes abundant use of electronic music, these two pieces do share this ability to work with the sounds of a word and manipulate it to achieve expressive power.

Cicognini's text on which the composer based his libretto is about a real episode in the life of Renaissance composer Don Carlo Gesualdo, son of the Prince of Naples and heir to his father's court, who brutally murdered his wife Maria d'Avalos in 16th century Naples when he discovered that she had taken a lover, the Duke of Andria, Don Fabrizio Carafa. Don Carlo married his young and pretty cousin Maria in an arranged political marriage, and after fathering a son with her to secure to himself an heir, he turned to hunting and music and completely neglected his wife. Bored, she let herself be seduced by the Duke who was a guest in her home. Don Carlo learned about it from his uncle (not before the uncle also tried to seduce Maria and was rejected), staged a fake hunting trip, came back with three or four thugs, broke into his wife's quarters and surprised the two lovers in bed. The thugs brutally murdered the Duke under Maria's eyes using multiple weapons, and after he was reduced to a bloody pulp Don Carlo stabbed her to death. Given his noble birth and the fact that it was a "honor killing" Don Carlo didn't suffer any legal consequence of his action, but remained to his death haunted by what he had done and still in love with his dead wife.

Yes, the stuff for opera all right! :ohmy:

It is interesting to also observe how close this story is to the one that inspired George Benjamin in my very favorite contemporary opera, Written on Skin.

In Luci Mie Traditrici, the characters are called Il Malaspina and La Malaspina (Don Carlo and Maria in real life), but they simply refer to each other as the Duke and the Duchess; instead of the uncle we get a servant who also loves the duchess and out of jealousy denounces her to the cuckolded husband, and the lover is simply called The Guest (L'Ospite). The murder scene is toned down as opposed to what really happened - The Duke brings his wife to the bedroom after the lover has already been murdered and is laying on the bed under the bed covers; he pulls off the bed covers and shows her the dead body of her lover, then stabs her. There are no thugs and no scene with the brutal multi-weapon killing.

The libretto does not entirely convey the action. The verbal exchanges are more like snippets of raw emotions than real storytelling. One rather follows what goes on inside the minds of the characters. They talk to each other but it is the depiction of love and fear, etc., that comes through. Things are implied more than said.

The opening scene - the prologue in French based on the eulogy mentioned above in the source material - is very poetic and sets the tone perfectly for what will happen, and is given an orchestral treatment that recurs later in modified form.

So, with the opera having been situated above, let's talk about this staging and this performance.


The very short and beautiful French prologue is shown on screen with the musical notes. The sets are simple, made of tall wooden fences and cages that turn and rotate. The characters are dressed in contemporary clothes and hold fans. Lighting is very dark (at times it is hard to see the stage, so dark it gets) and video direction privileges close-ups. The three lead singers are good-looking and act well. While their vocal performances are less accomplished than the ones in the reference CD mentioned above, they are good enough - this material is after all very difficult to sing. Of the three (it's hard to comment on the comprimario role of the servant since he barely utters a few recits), I'd put the vocal quality in this order: Ms. Tarandek first, Mr. Miedl second, and Mr. Schneider third. The two males are kind of bland. The female however has a very beautiful and full voice (and oh boy, she can act!).

The sound track is very clear and crisp, with good balance.

The use of the two fans as props is interesting. It introduces the Spain reference, and it is used to good effect for example when the female is aroused by the presence of her lover - she starts to rapidly flicker the fan, while he shows tremors in his hands to convey the same excitement. In the scene where the husband and wife are confrontational, they close the fans and use them as dueling knives. Large roses are also used as props (there is a scene where the countess pricks her hand with a rose and the husband faints - thus the alternative title in English).

The scene that gives the opera its name is very well done in this version. The two lovers, immensely attracted to each other, repeatedly lament the fact that their eyes can't help but look at each other's face. They repeat "luci mie traditrice" over and over, trying to cover their eyes with their hands.

The Lyon sets were more beautiful and ethereal, but this show does have the advantage of keeping the focus on the human drama, with the very intense acting by the singers. The video director highlighted it by often focusing on their faces with close-ups. They are also often very close to each other in terms of personal space (it's a very small stage anyway).

Yes, this is a very "dark" opera and I understand why the lighting designer chose to convey it by the absence of much illumination. On DVD, though, it gets to be a bit annoying, in the scenes where we can barely see what is going on.

The orchestra is hard to judge given that this score escapes the usual structure that would allow us to comment on transitions, balance, dynamics, etc. It's rather a collection of raspy, abrupt sounds, bird-sounding tweets, nature-sounding noises, heart beats, and so on. Certainly the Ensemble Algoritmo did reproduce the sounds competently, and we get to see it more clearly in the bonus feature. So yes, the instrumentalists did very well.

Very tense and beautifully acted final scene. The moment when the lover's cadaver is revealed is shocking and powerful, with a clever bit of special effect. Well done.

The composer attends the curtain calls, which is neat (another advantage of contemporary opera).

While I liked better the Lyon production (I'm not crazy about these wooden fences or cages and would have appreciated sleeker, more visually striking sets), watching one of my favorite operas on DVD did remind me of how fascinating Luci Mie Traditrici is, and greatly wet my appetite for seeing it live in Berlin in three weeks.

About the bonus feature:

The documentary opens with a view of the beautiful village of Montepulciano (which I've visited; great wine - Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, one of Italy's best). We see the orchestra rehearsing and producing Sciarrino's weird sounds; we see the stage hands building the sets, and the singers rehearsing.

The conductor explains the score very nicely. We get to see the composer talking to the conductor about the bells and how they should sound; the percussionist tries three different ways of striking them until the composer approves it.

Next Sciarrino explains scene by scene the effects he is getting at - very instructive. I'd call it precious, actually - it's not every day that we get to see a living composer explaining his music step by step. He also adds more depth to the understanding of the characters' psychological arc.

We briefly hear the stage director, then we see the singers being coached by the dramaturg and the conductor. More views of the streets and roofs of Montepulciano follow. We get to listen to Ms. Tarandek addressing the vocal challenges and see her reading the vocal score.

We see the artists applying make-up, then we listen to Mr. Miedl who is very insightful about his role.

Mr. Sciarrino talks about his interaction with the stage director. The beautiful poster for the Festival is shown as the last image and the documentary ends. Brilliant!


So overall we have on this DVD a phenomenal contemporary opera that is well played by the orchestra and well sung by Ms. Tarandek, both earning A++. Her male counterparts are significantly less shiny, around B+ territory. Acting is stupendous, earning an A++. The staging is successful in depicting the human drama and the claustrophobia (A+), but the sets are very primitive and could have been a lot better (B-). The sound track is very crisp (A++) but the image is too dark (B+) in parts. Then we get a superb documentary that in itself justifies the purchase of this product; A++. All things considered, I'd say A+, recommended. While the downsides could have pulled down the final score a bit lower, the documentary itself pushes it up again.

Lovers of contemporary opera for sure need this product. Those who aren't should see the documentary first, then the opera, and maybe they will actually start loving contemporary opera, because this bonus feature is very convincing.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
August 14th, 2016, 03:41 PM
Julie on DVD


Julie, chamber opera in one act / 12 scenes, (premiered on March 8, 2005 at La Monnaie, Brussels), sung in German (with a few lines in French)
Music by Philippe Boesnais (living Belgian composer born in 1936)
Libretto by Luc Bondy and Marie-Louise Bischofberger, after the 1888 play Fröken Julie by August Strindberg

A production of the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence 2005, in co-production with La Monnaie and the Wiener Festwochen
Filmed live at the Théâtre du Jeu de Paume in Aix-en-Provence in July 2005

Chamber Orchestra of La Monnaie conducted by Kazushi Ono

Stage direction - Luc Bondy
Sets - Richard Peduzzi
Costumes - Rudy Sabounghi
Lighting - Dominique Bruguière
Directed for video by Vincent Bataillon

Julie, the Count's daughter - Malena Ernman, a Swedish lyric mezzo-soprano
Jean, the valet - Garry Magee, an English baritone
Kristin, the cook - Kerstin Avemo, a Swedish coloratura soprano

A Bel Air Classique / Festival d'Aix-en-Provence 2007 release on DVD 9 NTSC, 16:9, region free; runtime 74 minutes; sound PCM stereo, DD 5.0, and DTS 5.1.; subtitles in German, French, English, and Spanish; insert with credits, a list of scenes (no other details provided, just listed by number), 13 color production pictures, a 2-page synopsis and a 3-page interview with the composer (very, very informative and interesting, detailing his composition technique and approach to the music) repeated in English, French, and German.

No bonus feature related to this opera, but there are five trailers of other Aix-en-Provence productions: a Poppea (no opinion on it; I haven't seen it - looks minimalistic and well-sung), Handel's Hercules (a superb show filmed in Paris but co-produced with Aix, with Joyce DiDonato arguably in her best work ever; it doesn't get any better than that!), a Don Giovanni (not the most recent one, but an older production with Mattei and Delunsch), a 2003 Traviata (quite decent, with Delunsch in the title role), and a 2001 Turn of the Screw with Delunsch as well which I haven't seen - looks great in this trailer!).

This product is available on Amazon for the bargain price of $11. Click [here (https://www.amazon.com/Boesmans-Julie-Malena-Ernman/dp/B000QGEWHU/)]


Continuing my Aix-en-Provence binge after attending their 2016 festival in person last month, I'm reviewing this compelling opera commissioned by Aix and La Monnaie for their 2005 season. It is a chamber opera with about 70 minutes of continuous one-act music and three characters. There is no overture; the orchestra just hums along while the character Kristin, the cook, vocalizes in the opening scene. From the beginning it is clear that the music is accessible for non-lovers of contemporary sounds, given its restrained, rather tonal and cinematic commentary of relatively melodious vocal lines in recitative style; this seems to at least work as a play with music for those who aren't fanatic about this sub-gender like I am.

The psychological drama is interesting and a lot is made of these three characters; the cook is the valet's fiancée, but the sexy mademoiselle of the house (the Count's daughter, title role; her father is mentioned but never appears) is successful in seducing him as well, as she feels bored with her noble status and would rather drop in rank to enjoy more freedom, proposing that the two elope together. Their difference in social status does doom the relationship given that the young lady despises more and more the servile (but exploitative) personality traits of her new lover, leading her to commit suicide at the end (something the valet, ultimately preferring the status quo, strongly encourages her to do). It all develops under the bitter gaze of the scorned cook.

The sets are simple and unattractive in purpose, showing a bleak kitchen with mix-and-match ugly-looking furniture (certainly aiming at depicting the rather depressing nature of the plot). Costumes are set at some point in the 20th century. Lighting is very good and uses to great effect the shadows of the artists projected big on the back wall. Some scenes are fittingly dark for a very somber atmosphere. The storm that happens at about 30 minutes is well rendered.

All three artists look their parts, are accomplished actors, and sing their roles with very good technique and nice voices. Facial expressions are particularly convincing by the pretty Kerstin Avemo who portrays very well the emotional storm she goes through. The other two are not far behind - I'd say that Ernman is just as good, while Magee is a bit less so. This is a show that is very notable for strong acting, and the video direction displays very well their faces in close-ups, alternating successfully with full stage views.

The artists get very sweaty. I can understand it; I've been to the Théâtre du Jeu de Paume; it is small and it gets very hot there, in the peak of Southern France's summer. There is no AC. I remember the need to frantically use the playbill as a fan...

Sound capture is excellent with perfect balance between singers and orchestra (which performs to perfection, under Ono's great conducting).

Theatricality and pace of this piece are handled beautifully by the composer and librettists. Character development is fabulous, particularly in the title role that begins frivolous but grows dramatic overtones when she realizes the conundrum she got herself into. The psychological duel between Julie and Jean is quite deep.

The great interview with the composer in the insert does add to the understanding of the piece, but I'd like to have a "making of" documentary as a bonus feature, the lack of it being the only downside of this product. Other than that, I can't spot any negative points. Everything works extremely well here: good score, good libretto, accomplished stage direction, phenomenal acting, nice orchestral playing and singing with good-looking artists; in summary it is a rather perfect show that easily earns my maximum score of A++, highly recommended.

I'm granting a lot of these lately... Is it grade inflation? I think not. It's just that I've been particularly lucky with the great operas and productions I've had the privilege of seeing live and on video medium, this summer. I wouldn't have criticized so much the awful Aida I saw in person at Opéra-Bastille if I were in just a grade-inflation mood. Great quality like the one exhibited by the entire production and artistic crew in this show just needs to be properly acknowledged.

I suspect that even non-lovers of contemporary opera will enjoy this show, and with the bargain price of $11, there is no risk. Buy it!

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 15th, 2018, 09:33 PM
El Público on blu-ray disc


El Público, ópera bajo la arena (The audience, opera under the sand), opera in five scenes with a prologue, sung in Spanish
Music by Mauricio Sotelo (b. 1961)
Libretto by Andrès Ibáñez, based on the play El Público by Federico García Lorca

This production is the World Première, recorded live at the Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain, March 2015

Klangforum Wien conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado
Coro Titular del Teatro Real, chorus master Andrés Máspero
Percussionist Agustín Diassera
Guitar soloist Canizares

Stage director Roberto Castro
Set designer Alexander Polzin
Costume designer Wojciech Dziedzic
Ligthing designer Urs Schönebaum
Choreographer Darrel Grand Moultrie

Directed and edited for video by Jérémie Cuvillier


Director (Enrique) / Vine Leaves Figure - José Antonio López
First Man (Gonzalo) / Bells Figure / Red nude - Thomas Tatzl
Horses (dancing, silent roles) - Arcángel, Jesús Méndez, Rubén Olmo
Helen (Lady) - Gun-Brit Barkmin
Emperor / Magician - Erin Caves
Juliet / Boy - Isabella Gaudí
and several other minor roles, dancing silent roles


Blu-ray disc released by BelAir and Teatro Real, in November 2016. 1080i Full HD 16:9, regions A, B, and C. 142 minutes. Subtitles in Spanish, English, French, German, and Korean. Booklet with no fewer than 15 color production pictures, credits, track list with title, characters, and duration, and a detailed synopsis (essential reading to understand the piece) repeated in English, French, and German.
LPCM stero or DTS HD Master Audio 5.1. Singers have body mikes. Sound engineering is excellent, and so is the image.


OK, folks, this is a really, really mixed bag. If you don't like contemporary opera, stay away. If you do, maybe you should still stay away, although there are redeeming qualities.

This is an extremely surrealistic version of Federico García Lorca's play about the theater, its relationship with the public, and the inner demons and struggles of the artists. The problem is, it is so surrealistic that one needs to read the explanations, thankfully provided in the booklet, for what is going on, otherwise one will have no clue whatsoever, in order to make any possible sense of the chaotic action.

In this regard, I think it fails as an art piece, because in my opinion expressive art must actually express something that is somewhat intelligible, instead of relying on an external account to impact some sense into it.

So, if you need to read "here in this scene the three horses symbolize... " etc., it generally means that you failed to make the same point within the work itself.

That's strike one.

Strike two is that while this composer puts together a compelling instrumental score, he seems to have no clue whatsoever regarding vocal writing.

Mr. Sotelo, here is a hint. Contemporary vocal writing, when the composer is good, is generally something other than "ooohh OOOHHH ooohhh OOOOHHHH aaahhh AAAHHHH aaaahhhh AAAAHHHH." No, it doesn't need to be melodious, but it needs to be inventive and beautiful. Hint #2: listen to operas by Sciarrino, Benjamin, Saariaho for examples of how to write for the voice in contemporary times.

I mean, if a composer is entirely incapable of writing for the voice, he might as well just compose a modern ballet. Which is where this piece is actually strong. As a modern ballet, it works. The problem resides when they start singing. This is very true of the first few acts although it improves a bit towards the end.

Strike three, try not to put too much into your piece. Here we have a theater director, his secret male lover, his wife (for the sake of societal respectability) and his struggle with staging Romeo and Juliet in non-imaginative ways, versus doing it with an underground twist ("under the sand"). That's probably compelling enough. Do we really need a Roman emperor... and later... Jesus Christ??? Do we really need horses trying to seduce Juliet??? Uh, what??? Is bestiality a thing, these days??? And do we need a character raping and killing a boy???

So, three strikes and you are out. We should just call this work "not recommended" and move on.

But then, I did talk about redeeming qualities.

The first one: the instrumental score is amazing. All that we don't get in the matter of inventive vocal writing, we do get in the realm of inventive orchestral score. It's a really good one, full of interesting moments, also incorporating percussion, electronic music, acoustic guitar, and Flamenco elements (OK, again, a bit too busy, but good, nevertheless). By the way, when the Flamenco gets into the voice elements as well, that's part of the rare moments when the vocal part is beautiful. The chorus parts are not too bad, either.

The second one: like I said, this piece works as modern ballet. The choreography and blocking are well done.

The third one: costumes and sets couldn't be any more visually striking. In theatrical terms this is a feast for the eyes with several moments of sheer beauty and wild inventiveness.

The fourth one: the singers in general did a terrific job with their very shouty and difficult parts. And the one moment in which there is some semblance of real operatic vocal writing, the very attractive Isabella Gaudí was impressive with her voice, adding her vocal talent to her beauty (it's her on the cover, behind the horse).

The fifth one: it is always a pleasure to listen to the outstanding Klangforum Wien playing contemporary music, arguably one of the best orchestras specializing in this kind of music.

OK, then, overall there are more assets than shortcomings, I guess. 5 vs. 3.

So, I don't regret having purchased this product, but I still hesitate in recommending it to others.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 20th, 2018, 12:34 PM
Marco Polo on Blu-ray disc


Marco Polo, An opera within an opera, or a fantasy on an epic journey. Opera in four books and six tableaux, sung in English
Music by Tan Dun (b. 1957)
Libretto by Paul Griffiths
Premiered at the Munich Biennale on May 7, 1996

This performance on blu-ray disc was recorded live on November 13 and 18, 2008, at the Het Muziektheater in Amsterdam, in a production by De Nederlandse Opera.

Netherlands Chamber Orchestra conducted by Tan Dun
Capella Amsterdam, chorus master Daniel Reuss
Pipa - Ya Dong
Sitar - Siddharth Kishna
Tabla - Rupak Kumar
(there are also Tibetan ritual horns, pray bowls and bells)

Stage Director - Pierre Audi
Set & Lighting Designer - Jean Kalman
Costume Designer - Angelo Figus
Choreographer - Nanine Linning

Film Director - Misjel Vermerien
Film Producer - Coby Van Dijck
Film co-produced by De Nederlandse Opera and NPS


Polo - Charles Workman (tenor)
Marco - Sarah Castle (mezzo)
Kublai Khan - Stephen Richardson (bass)
Water - Nancy Allen Lundy (soprano)
Shadow 1 / Rustichello / Li Po - Zhang Jun (tenor)
Shadow 2 / Sheherazada / Mahler / Queen - Tania Kross (mezzo)
Shadow 3 / Dante / Shakespeare - Stephen Bryant (baritone)
Chinese / Arabian Dancer - Mu Na (silent role)

Booklet - contains a must-read, extremely informative 5-page free-flowing essay that incorporates the composer's biography and musical style with an explanation of the work (a synopsis is not given here but rather as a bonus feature, see below) by Reiner E. Moritz, entitled "Tan Dun - a traveler between East and West" repeated in English, French, and German. Credits, a list of musical numbers with duration, a diagram with the 3-layered structure of the opera, and no fewer than eleven gorgeous color production pictures.

Extra features, illustrated synopsis (voice-narrated, very detailed and interesting; a must-listen in order to absorb the various layers of the non-linear plot), cast gallery, and a documentary by Reiner E. Moritz including interviews with the creative team and principal members of the cast, entitled "The Music of Tomorrow" (very interesting).

Running time opera 123 minutes, bonus 25 minutes of documentary plus about 7 more minutes for the narrated synopsis and a few more for the cast gallery.

Blu-ray disc released by Opus Arte on June 30, 2009. All regions. Audio PCM stereo or PCM 5.0. Image 1080i 16:9. Subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Dutch. The image is excellent with good video direction, and the sound capture is perfect.


The blu-ray disc, and the work itself

First of all, let me say this: we have here a luxury product by the usually very competent Opus Arte, with extensive, high-quality documentation that is essential to the full fruition of this complex and fascinating work. There is nothing left out: a very good essay, a voice-narrated synopsis, a fascinating documentary including informative interviews with the artists, and beautiful production pictures supplemented with a cast gallery. I wish all opera DVDs and blu-ray discs came complete with all these elements.

The documentary not only shows the enormous work necessary to produce such a complex piece, but also teaches us about Eastern music and vocal techniques such as overtone singing (a type of singing in which the singer manipulates the resonances created past the vocal folds, using the upper cavities of mouth and nose and the lips). Even the Chinese dancer gets to explain why and how she makes her body movements, while the choreographer further explains it. Make-up is explained as well - first time I see this done! Also fascinating is when they show how the instruments of the orchestra - including the Eastern ones - produce the sounds of the score.

This is one of the best documentaries I've seen; one regrets that it lasts for only 25 minutes.

The multi-layered, non-linear narration of this opera is called by Tan Dun "an opera within the opera" but is rather done in three angles rather than two. We have a spiritual journey (represented by Polo, the title character's blue, male, inner or spiritual self, or his memories) that is narrated in four "books of timespace" - Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn. We have a physical journey (represented by Marco, the title character's red, female, physical self - the traveler and adventurer) that goes from Piazza to Sea to Bazaar to Desert to Himalaya to The Wall (from Venice to China). Then, we have a musical journey, going from Medieval to Middle Eastern to Indian to Tibetan to Mongolian to Chinese; the Western and Easter instruments will enter in sequence to define these cultural and geographical landscapes. The helpful diagram of the structure contained in the booklet shows how these various layers overlap.

We could add to this a fourth layer, represented by the theatrical lighting, with alternation between light and dark that underlines the various moods of the perils and triumphs of the journey.

The characters have specific functions. We have already mentioned the spiritual versus physical aspects of the dual Marco Polo. Dante/Shakespeare is the guide. Rustichello is the narrator, the questioner and witness (a real person in real life, the Pisa native who recovered Marco Polo's memories while in prison and was the ghost-righter who co-authored Polo's book of memoirs - this narrator role is also a typical element of Kunqu opera). Water, as the singer puts it, is the companion who is essential to the journey since without water there is no traveling. She also represents Nature.

The one negative aspect of this libretto is that it does a bit too much. I doubt we really needed Mahler, Shakespeare, etc., as characters. Less is more, Mr. Griffiths. It seems like to a certain degree Tan Dun would agree, since his subsequent operas are less convoluted. It is also curious to notice that the geographical path chosen by the librettist doesn't match the real voyages of Marco Polo.

The instruments achieve narrative roles as well - the sitar and tabla show us that we are in the desert; Tibetan horns announce that we have reached the Hymalaya; the pipa introduces the Forbidden City.

The journeys evoke the past, the present, and the future, as well as the cycles of Nature. The physical and spiritual dimensions of being are reunited at the end of the opera. The Great Wall of China is reached and overcome. This is both a journey through time that takes the explorer through the seasons, and a journey in dream (the theatrical narration is very oneiric) that carries him into himself. Tan Dun quotes Gurnemanz's line to Parsifal in the first act of Wagner's opera: "You see, my son, here time turns into space." The two historical characters Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, according to Tan Dun represents what is real in this dreamy landscape - the real emperor functions as a sort of anchor.

Tan Dun, quoting a colleague, defines journeys as being "like dawns in having no beginning or ending but only continuing." He adds that Marco Polo "is everyone, everything, You, I, and It."

As complex and convoluted all the above seems to be, as a matter of fact the libretto does explain the various aspects, especially through the figure of the Narrator who comments upon the action.

Ah, the music. The music is outstanding. What an interesting aural ocean, coming in waves and waves of exquisite, exotic, familiar and unfamiliar sounds! It gets even better in the second half of the opera (especially after 1 hour and 20 minutes), with the more developed Eastern sounds and melodious richness that was so successful in Tan Dun's Oscar-winning score for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.


The production and the performance (acting, dancing, singing, orchestral playing):

The stage is pretty busy in terms of props and structures and I can't say I like very much the huge blocks of black styrofoam (four truckloads of it, the documentary says) that convey the rocky landscape. I've seen more visually enticing elements of a set. With everything else being colorful and interesting, I wonder why they thought they needed these ugly black rocks. Simply not having them there wouldn't detract from the staging; much the opposite, it would have made it, well, lighter.

The costumes on the other hand are simply gorgeous and very evocative of each role's characteristics (I particularly like Water's). Strangely enough, the picture they chose for the cover is one of the least representative of the visual beauty of these costumes. Unfortunately the make-up on the face of Zhang Jun starts to melt with sweat.

Blocking and choreography are phenomenal, and important elements of the artistic whole.

Acting is rather advanced. These are well-coached and trained actors who were able to convey facially and with body movements the shifting moods of the piece.

Singing is very good across the board. These Western and Eastern singers blended well the various aspects of the dense and beautiful vocal score that combines Kunqu opera techniques with contemporary Western music. All singers are in good voice and do produce the full range of their vocal roles - I like Nancy Allen Lundy's attractive looks too (vocally she reminds me of Barbara Hannigan, who would have been great for this role).

Nancy Allen Lundy, credit unknown, fair promotional use

The other leading female in this production, Sarah Castle, does well but her mezzo role isn't as shiny as Water's soprano. All males are good singers too. The Kunqu Opera-trained Zhang Jun puts together a strong performance with vocal and physical acrobatics.

Zhang Jun, in black-and-blue, flanked by Sarah Castle and Charles Workman - credit unknown, fair promotional use

The dancer is mesmerizing. The chorus is spectacular.

Tan Dun's conducting is praised everywhere as very dynamic and energetic, which is why he is often invited to guest-conduct across the world, and these qualities are in full display here.

Very enthusiastic ovation at the end, with Zhang Jun being the artist who got the most praise (if we don't count the composer/conductor), followed by Nancy Allen Lundy.


In summary, this is an excellent performance put together by De Nederlandse Opera of a very beautiful piece, and I couldn't recommend it any more strongly to opera lovers in general (not only to contemporary opera lovers). Of the three operas by Tan Dun that I know (this one, Tea, and The First Emperor), I find this fascinating Marco Polo to be by far the best one. Not to forget, Opus Arte put together an excellent package. Overall score, A++. It doesn't get any better than this.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
February 4th, 2018, 05:29 PM
The Perfect American on blu-ray disc


The Perfect American, opera in two acts, sung in English
Music by Philip Glass (b. 1937); this is his 25th opera
Libretto by Rudy Wurlitzer from the novel Der König von Amerika by Peter Stephan Jungk
Premiered at Teatro Real de Madrid, Spain, on January 22, 2013 (which is this production)

A co-production of the Teatro Real de Madrid with the English National Opera
Recorded live at the Teatro Real de Madrid in January 2013

Coro y Orquesta Titulares del Teatro Real (Coro Intermezzo, Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid), conducted by Dennis Russel Davies; Chorus master Andrés Máspero

The Improbable Skills Ensemble (choreography, puppetry)

Director - Phelim McDermott
Set and costume designer - Dan Potra
Lighting designer - Jon Clark
Choreographer - Ben Wright
Video - Leo Warner (59 Productions)
TV director - János Darvas


Walt Disney - Opera Lively interviewee Christopher Purves
Roy Disney - David Pittsinger
Dantine - Donald Kaasch
Hazel George - Janis Kelly
Lillian Disney - Marie McLaughlin
Sharon - Sarah Tynan
Diane - Nazan Fikret
Lucy/Josh - Rosie Lomas
Abraham Lincoln/A funerary worker - Zachary James
Andy Warhol - John Easterlin
Chuck/A doctor - Juan Noval-Moro
A secretary - Beatriz de Gálvez
Nurse - Noelia Buñuel

Released on DVD by OpusArte and Teatro Real de Madrid on October 29, 2013. Running time 111 minutes. One extra: a cast gallery. All regions. Subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean. 1080i HD blu-ray disc 16:9, sound LPCM 24-bit stereo or 5.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. The booklet contains 4 color production pictures, credits, a 3-page essay, and a 2-page synopsis, all repeated in English, French, and German. No track list.


The prologue and opening scene are beautiful and Glass' music for them matches the beauty, but is definitely less striking than the music for Satyagraha. Glass here employs more tonal, traditional melodies, with fewer moments of the purely repetitive elements that make his signature style. Christopher Purvis unsurprisingly is in great voice as the title character, and the aptly named David Pittsinger is just as good as Walt Disney's brother Roy. The production is ingenious with great use of lighting, blocking, and projections. The latter are particularly good, using large semi-transparent canvasses that hang from the ceiling and move around in circles, with the floating projector moving too, accordingly.

Vocal writing on the other hand so far is utterly boring, with nothing more than declamatory phrases in an endless arioso. The scenes go on and on with this trend. This is not helped by the mediocre libretto which states one platitude after another.

There are some parts that are more interesting, like the Happy Birthday scene (the music is not the traditional one) and the interaction with the Abraham Lincoln puppet, depicted below:

Zachary James as Abraham Lincoln and Christopher Purves as Walt Disney - photo credit Alastair Muir

But most scenes don't work as well, and the fault is the libretto's. As much as Christopher Purves sings well, and he does, his acting is a bit bland and doesn't really enhance the drama around what was supposed to be a polarizing figure.

So, the first act ends with this impression of decent instrumental score, dull vocal writing, and boring libretto, put together with an inventive staging but bland acting. Let's hope that the second half, which apparently is better, recovers some punch.

The first scene, with Andy Warhol, indeed is another one that works fairly well.

John Easterlin as Andy Warhol - Photo credit Javier del Real / Teatro Real / European Pressphoto Agency

Scene 2 in act 2 is visually the best one so far in this production, and the music gets to be more lively. This reprieve doesn't last too long since scene 3 is again dull and boring.

Anyway, I have formed an opinion already, and I don't even feel like waiting for the opera to end to state it in full: we are faced here with a dud. This opera is definitely not as good as Glass' Satyagraha I love so much (or Einstein on the Beach, and I haven't seen Akhnaten yet, to my deep regret, but it is widely considered to be of equal high quality), and in spite of a few assets, it is ultimately forgetful and actually not even worth the couple of hours one spends with it. Not recommended.

PS - At least, the last scene is beautiful, both staging-wise, and musically.

February 7th, 2018, 04:19 PM
I haven't seen Akhnaten yet, to my deep regret, but it is widely considered to be of equal high quality.

If you haven't already, listen to at least a bit of the music. I find it very appealing.


Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
March 4th, 2018, 04:51 AM
Akhnaten, opera in three acts, on CD, narrated in English and sung in English, ancient Egyptian, Hebrew, and Akkadian
Music by Philip Glass
Libretto by Philip Glass, with contributions by Shalom Goldmann, Robert Israel, and Richard Riddell; based on the life of Pharaoh Akhenaten (Glass chose to spell it without the first letter E), recovering poems (including, authored by Akhenaten himself) from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, parts of the Tel-el-Amarna tablets, Psalm 104 of the Hebrew Bible, and entries in Frommer's and Fodor's touristic guides to Egypt
Premiered on March 24, 1984, at Die Staatstheater Sttutgart, in a production by Achim Freyer; the last opera of the Portrait Trilogy (Einstein on the Beach and Satyagraha are the first two installments)


2 CDs released by Sony originally in 1987 on vinyl; re-released on CD in 2003
The Stuttgart State Opera Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies


Akhnaten - Paul Esswood
His wife Nefertiti - Milagros Vargas
His mother Queen Tye - Melinda Liebermann
Horemhab, general - Tero Hannula
High Priest of Amon - Helmut Holzapfel
Aye, Nefertiti's father - Cornelius Hauptmann
Amenhotep III, Akhenaten's father - spoken role - David Warrilow
The Scribe (narrator) - David Warrilow
The Daughters of Akhenaten - Victoria Schnieder, Lynna Wilhelm-Königer, Maria Koupilova-Ticha, Christina Wächtler, Geraldine Rose, Angelika Schwarz


I'm finally listening to this opera from one of my favorite living composers. It is stunning. Phenomenal. Extremely beautiful! And to think that some people say that modern and contemporary operas are never melodious!

The action is initially in Thebes, 1375 BC. Act I starts very introspective and solemn, in a minor key and humming bass line, and after a longish prelude, we get beautiful declamation from the Scribe. This is followed by a nice chorus singing of the late Pharaoh's funeral (Amenhotep III), and there is a switch to major keys in a march that contains drums and a powerful crescendo.

The scene that comes next is the Coronation of Akhnaten. It contains his leitmotif (trumpets) but he doesn't sing yet; we get a spoken text with all his titles; pretty interesting. It's in scene 3 that Akhnaten gets an opportunity to sing (in Egyptian); it is very melodic (it comes at around the 40-minute mark), and intertwined with Nefertiti's and Queen Tye's voices - a great moment! This ends the first act.

The second act opens with music that is very similar to some stretches in Satyagraha (not only this comes in function of Glass' signature style, but actually, apparently, he did want to musically quote the first two operas in the trilogy - later he will quote Einstein on the Beach, too).

A scene that depicts conflict, when Akhnaten leads an attack on the temple, is set to halting, saccadic sung music that contains only vocalizations, no words. This accomplishes a great effect. The scene ends with Akhnaten's triumph in toppling the existing religion and imposing monotheism (worshipping the Sun God).

Next we get, over music for the trombone, the recitation of a love poem that Akhnaten dedicates to Nefertiti (although it is read by the narrator). The words are very poetic, and after the narration in English, both Akhnaten and Nefertiti say the poem again to each other, this time in sung form (simultaneously; it's a duet with the two vocal lines in counterpoint), and in Egyptian. A great musical moment is achieved by the trumpets joining the two voices mid-way.

Scene 3 that follows is supposed to contain a dance when fully staged, celebrating the construction of the new capital city, including a brass fanfare and light dance music. This is introduced by a long, long declamation by the Scribe. Stage directions include that musicians appear on stage playing the triangle, wood block, and tambourine, in a pulsating, rhythmic orchestration, so that dancers, Akhnaten, and members of the court can dance.

Then in Scene four, we hear the opera's most famous piece, the Hymn to the god Aten, which is sung by Akhnaten in English, alternating minor and major keys (oh so beautiful!), and after it ends, some of the melody repeats over Psalm 104 in Hebrew, which apparently is a form Glass used in order to depict the link between Akhnaten's push to implement a monotheist religion, and the religions that followed several centuries later. This scene is the last one in act II.

Act III moves the action to 17 years later (1358 BC), at the end of Akhnaten's reign. The love theme from act II is repeated on oboes, with Akhnaten, Nefertiti, and their daughters singing, again, wordless vocalizations. His empire is crumbling, enemies are attacking his land, his subjects write letters (read on stage) asking for help and troops but continues to be oblivious, which is conveyed by the wordless singing.

The Pharaoh's inaction irks other players like Horemhab, Aye, and the High Priest, who then incite the people to attack the palace (they sing the letters asking for help, in Akkadian, and the music is forceful and incisive). The chorus, representing the people, then attacks and kills Akhnaten and his family, and destroys the city.

The third scene recovers music from the prelude of the opera, signaling that things in Egypt returned to what they were (monotheism is over and the traditional gods are brought back). Akhnaten's son, the famous Tutankhamon, becomes the new Pharaoh and restores Amon's temple, which is all described by the Scribe (the end of the name of the two Pharaohs recover that of the gods they favored - Akhn-Aten, and Tutankh-Amon). There is a sudden shift in the timeline, to present day Egypt, where the narrator comes in the guise of a modern tourist guide, reciting text from modern guidebooks that describe the ruins of Akhnaten's city, indicating that nothing was left from it.

The opera closes with an epilogue featuring the ghosts of the royal family, walking around the ruins and singing wordlessly. The bass line is recovered from the opening of Einstein on the Beach. The ghosts join a funeral procession (staged as similar to the one in Act I). The end.

I love it. Very powerful piece of music; one laments the fact that Philip Glass in his old age doesn't seem to compose as beautifully as he did at the time of his famous trilogy.

The cast in this recording is the one from the world premiere and I think they did a reasonable job although the countertenor is less good than some of the current ones that I admire (would love to see this role sung by Jaroussky). The orchestra does well, playing vigorously. The excellent conductor is a Grammy winner, and has premiered many of Glass' pieces. The composer's 5th symphony was dedicated to Davies.

A+ (for the recording; would have been A++ with a better countertenor - the opera itself is an A++ masterpiece), very recommended for all opera lovers, not only lovers of contemporary opera. I look forward to an opportunity to see this opera live, fully staged. Unfortunately it is not given that often, and apparently Glass never authorized a DVD of it, for some weird reason. I was trying to not listen to it on audio only, to preserve the surprise, but when I found out that it isn't being given by the Met this coming season as I was once told, I couldn't resist, and went ahead and listened to it.

Countertenors coming back to prominence were a rare thing in 1984, which is probably why they didn't have as many great picks as they could have had now. Recently (November 2016) Opera Lively interviewee Anthony Roth Costanzo sang this piece at LA Opera, to great critical acclaim, in a production by Philim McDermott that was given in March 2016 at the ENO. Remeber, McDermott was also responsible for the gorgeous Met/ROH production of Satyagraha.

Anthony Roth Costanzo as Akhnaten. Photo credit: Craig T. Matthew/L.A. Opera

Patrick Blackwell as Aye, Stacey Tappan as Queen Tye and Zachary James as the Scribe. Photo credit: Craig T. Matthew/L.A. Opera

March 7th, 2018, 01:55 AM
Countertenors coming back to prominence were a rare thing in 1984, which is probably why they didn't have as many great picks as they could have had now. Recently (November 2016) Opera Lively interviewee Anthony Roth Costanzo sang this piece at LA Opera, to great critical acclaim, in a production by Philim McDermott that was given in March 2016 at the ENO. Remeber, McDermott was also responsible for the gorgeous Met/ROH production of Satyagraha.

Anthony Roth Costanzo as Akhnaten. Photo credit: Craig T. Matthew/L.A. Opera

Patrick Blackwell as Aye, Stacey Tappan as Queen Tye and Zachary James as the Scribe. Photo credit: Craig T. Matthew/L.A. Opera

I am devasted this is not on DVD. I would have so loved to have seen it.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
May 26th, 2018, 04:44 PM
The Heiress of Vilkaci on DVD, music drama in five acts, sung in Latvian (original title Vilkacu Mantiniece) and first written in 1947, left incomplete, finished much later in the first decade of the 21st century


This is the recording of the fully-staged world premiere, on June 3, 2011, at the Latvian National Opera in Riga (a concert version was given on November 3, 2005, same location)
Music by Bruno Skulte (1905-1976) (vocal score and 1st act orchestration) and Andrejs Jansons (2nd-5th acts orchestration)
Libretto by Tonija Kalve, after the novel of the same title by Iiona Leimane

Latvijas Nacionalas Operas Koris un Orkestris conducted by Andrejs Jansons, chorus master Aigars Meri
Stage Director Inara Slucka
Choreographer Elita Bukovska
Set and Costume Designer Ieva Jurjane
Lighting Designer Egils Kupcs
Make-up Designers Ingrida Bandeniece, Vivita Jansone


Dana Bramane - Maruta, Heiress of the Vilkaci estate
Armands Silins - Dievlodzins, master of the Dievlodzini estate
Raimonds Bramanis - Raits, his elder son
Patriks Stepe - Andis, his younger son
Inga Slubovska - Ieva, betrothed to Raits
Rihards Macanovskis - Peters, friend of Raits
Ieva Parsa - Grieta, a town girl, jilted by Peters
Andzella Goba - Dace, a soothsayer
Nauris Puntulis - Bertulis, a homeless beggar
Guntars Rungis - Toothless beggar
Guntis Rostoks, Anda Strautmane, Inese Granovska, Solvita Rinke, Andris Brambergs - Town beggars
Parsla Balode - Matron of the Dievlodzini estate
Anastasija Demidova - a little girl


DVD-5 NTSC 16:9, 98 minutes, DD stereo, subtitles in Latvian, English, French, and German, all regions, released by Albany Records

The insert contains 12 color production pictures (8 of them are small thumbnails), credits, a 2-page essay by Arvids Bomiks that focuses exclusevely on the composer's biography, a 2-page synopsis, and mini biographies of the artists with black-and-white head shots, all repeated in English and Latvian. No track list. No extras.


This work comes endorsed by praise from multiple sources. For example, Opera News said "the work and the recording are each a delightful listening treat"; the Financial Times called it "melodious and engaging"; Opera Now magazine added that "the score is continually inventive"; Opernwelt said it is "worth seeing" and the Corriere della Sera remarked that it is "a work that is never heard as much as it merits." Das Opernglas commented that its "Verismo style gives the opera an attractive vitality." So, it is with trepidation that I approach this new work.

The prolific composer who has to his name symphonies, cantatas, symphonic poems, art songs, ballets, instrumental and vocal chamber music, film scores, etc., wrote just this one opera, for which he did the vocal score and the orchestration for the first act, leaving the orchestration for the other acts unfinished, claiming lack of time to get to it. After his death, his former student Andrejs Jansons finished up the orchestration and conducted the world premiere. While he was still alive, the composer declined an offer to get his opera premiered in Moscow, given that he had fled Latvia on the occasion of the Russian occupation (lived in exile first in Germany, then in the United States where he died), disliked the Russians, and didn't want his work to premiere in Moscow.

The short overture indeed feels a lot like Verismo and film scores. This is immediately followed by a Latvian folk dance, performed by the chorus, in the opening scene that celebrates the engagement of two of the characters. This soon resolves into an aria for Dievlodzins (it looks like this thing goes fast!), and two problems with this DVD that is technically primitive become apparent: large, intrusive subtitles, and poor sound capture on this DD Stereo sound track, that makes the singers sound thin. Captation is done only from the front. Camera work is a bit erratic too. This recording is not up-to-speed with the latest technology.

The sets are very colorful and attractive, featuring cartoon-like, rubber-like trees and grass, a house, and a large moon over a dark bluish sky. Costumes are simple but tasteful, reflecting some time period in the early 20th century. Cast members are for the most part young and cute.

The first female to appear, Inga Slubovska, is not an impressive singer. Where is Kristine Opolais when we need her? This production featuring a Latvian opera would be the perfect home for singers such as Opolais and Elina Garanca... sigh.

The folkloric aspect continues into the drinking songs, dances between the two betrothed youngsters Raits and Ieva, and Inga Slubovska actually surprises me with a very well delivered high note to end her song. Maybe she just needed some warming-up. It never pays to issue an opinion too early, when singers are not yet at full speed with their throats.

Beggars appear to spoil the mood of the engagement party, and what follow is a dramatic aria by Dievlodzins (manned by a decent singer) which seems too long and boring. We get the first glimpse of our title role lady, and she is pretty but for now we can barely hear her voice, with the above-mentioned captation problems. The tenor singing Raits is not bad.

Dana Bramane walks towards the front of the stage so the mics get her voice more clearly, and she sings well. When she delivers the high notes, however, the sound engineering can't handle them and they get distorted. Pity; the technical limitations of this recording are really getting annoying.

When she reveals who she is - the heiress of the neighboring rival estate - the party goers reject them and curse her, everybody leaves, everything turns dark, except for a spotlight on her, while snow starts following. The effect is beautiful, and ends act I.

So far, the general impression of the work itself is that it is fine, but maybe the praise by the newspapers and magazines quoted is a bit exaggerated. It sounds a bit like your run-of-the-mill folkloric fare, more likely to be appealing to members of the same culture than to a worldwide audience. We'll see if this improves over the subsequent acts.

Act II starts with another folkloric song for the chorus (by the way, the chorus is good). Musically the first few numbers do sound more enticing than the ones in Act I. Mezzo Andzella Goba is good.

Blocking is not great and acting tends to be stiff and unconvincing. Anyway, act II ends and like I said it is musically good. It seems like the orchestration finished up by Jansons is actually better than the one by Skulte for the first act.

Act III opens up to a forest scene with interesting lighting, pretty sets, and some animal costumes and witchcraft. It ends with a love duet between Raits and Maruta, and they enjoy a love night.

Church bells open Act IV in an orchestral prelude (by the way this is a good orchestra, too), as the faithful sing religious hymns. There is a confrontation between Peters and Grieta and both artists in this role sing well. The costumes for this act, supposedly being folks' best for a Sunday church service, are a bit more sophisticated, and not bad. Act IV ends, these are all short acts.

The last one comes after a solemn prelude. We are back in the forest. There is a lightening storm. Things catch fire. The old head of the Dievlodzini estate dies of a heart attack, apparently. People blame Maruta and want to kill her but Raits intercedes for her, recognizes that her child is his, and all ends well.

The verdict. Regarding the work itself, it is no masterpiece but is pleasant enough. I'd call the opera a B+ one. About the production and the performance, the physical production is good, with sets that I liked, A+, good lighting effects, A+, appropriate costumes, A. Blocking is mediocre, B-, and acting is rather weak across the board, B. The orchestra, conducting, and chorus are all good, A+. Singing is pretty reasonable, overall A, with the females generally doing better than the males (I like the attractive singer in the title role). The DVD has deficient sound which is actually bothersome, B-; the image is fine, with camera work that changes angles a bit too often, B+. The insert is not great, only focusing on the composer's biography, and providing a rather good synopsis, but nothing else. B-.

All things considered, I'd call this product, A-, good enough as a curiosity, but it's not something that one should rush to buy.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
May 26th, 2018, 08:07 PM
Einstein on the Beach on blu-ray disc


Einstein on the Beach, opera in four acts, sung and spoken in English (1975)
Music and Lyrics by Philip Glass
Spoken text by Christopher Knowles, Samuel M. Johnson, and Lucinda Childs
Premiered at the Festival d'Avignon in Southern France, on July 25, 1976

The Philip Glass Ensemble conducted by Michael Riesman
The Lucinda Childs Dance Company
Direction, set, and light design by Robert Wilson
Choreography by Lucinda Childs
Film director Don Kent

Principal Performers

Einstein/Solo Violinist - Antoine Silverman
Featured Performer - Helga Davis
Featured Performer - Kate Moran
Boy - Jasper Newell
Mr. Johnson - Charles Williams

Recorded live at Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, France, on 6-7 January 2014, a revival of a 2012-2013 co-production by a large number of organizations including the BAM, the Barbican, the University of California Berkeley, De Nederlandse Opera, the Opéra National de Montpellier Languedoc Roussillon, the University of Michigan, and the Luminato, Toronto Festival of Arts and Creativity, realized by Pomegranate Arts.

Released on blu-ray disc (also available on DVD) by Opus Arte and Telmondis (in association with France Télévisions, Mezzo, and the Centre National du Cinéma et de l'Image Animée)

1xBD25 + 1xBD50, 1080p HD, LPCM 24bits Stereo or DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, all regions. No subtitles are available. This is a luxury edition with a hard cover booklet containing 55 pages of information, 18 large color production pictures, head shots and biographies of the main creators, credits, diagrams of the sets, statements by Glass, Wilson, and Childs, notes on the choreography and movements, two extensive essays (one authored by Glass himself), all repeated in English, French, and German.

This long work with a run time of 264 minutes is the first installment of Philip Glass' gorgeous Portrait Trilogy, with the other two being Satyagraha and Akhnaten. There is no story line, no plot. The libretto simply includes solfège syllables, recited numbers, and short poetry lines. Before the major acts there are intermezzi called "knee plays" (as in, a joint to link parts) with repeated recitation of numbers accompanied by an electric organ.

The performers recite words and numbers, while the chorus (16 members) does sing. The opera is orchestrated for a small 5-musician ensemble plus a violin soloist.

The complex, non-linear structure is as follows:

Prologue (solo electric organ)
Knee Play 1 (electric organ, SATB chorus)
Act 1

Scene 1 – Train (piccolo, soprano and tenor saxophones, solo soprano and alto voices, SATB chorus, two electric organs)
Scene 2 – Trial

Entrance (three flutes, soprano and alto chorus, electric organ)
"Mr. Bojangles" (solo violin, bass clarinet, SATB chorus, electric organ)
"Paris"/"All Men Are Equal" (solo electric organ)

Knee Play 2 (solo violin)
Act 2

Scene 1 – Dance 1 (piccolo, soprano and alto saxophones, solo soprano and alto voices, two electric organs)
Scene 2 – Night Train (solo soprano and tenor voices, bass clarinet, SATB chorus, electric organ)

Knee Play 3 (SATB chorus a cappella)
Act 3

Scene 1 – Trial/Prison

"Prematurely Air-Conditioned Supermarket" (SATB chorus, electric organ)
Ensemble (three flutes, two electric organs)
"I Feel the Earth Move" (soprano saxophone, bass clarinet)

Scene 2 – Dance 2 (solo violin, solo soprano, SATB chorus, electric organ)

Knee Play 4 (solo violin, tenor and bass chorus)
Act 4

Scene 1 – Building (two electric organs, improvisatory woodwinds, chorus and solo tenor saxophone)
Scene 2 – Bed

Cadenza (solo electric organ)
Prelude (solo electric organ)
Aria (solo soprano, electric organ)

Scene 3 – Spaceship (flute, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, solo violin, solo soprano voice, SATB chorus, two electric organs)

Knee Play 5 (solo violin, soprano and alto chorus, electric organ)


It doesn't get any more unconventional than this, as far as opera goes. I think the only comparable work I've seen (and liked very much) is Itinerário do Sal, a Portuguese contemporary opera I reviewed earlier on.

This is a work for those who are interested in hypnotic music with repetitive structures, matched to superbly creative choreography and imagery, made of strikingly beautiful and strange sets, costumes, lighting, and props. It is best enjoyed as a long spectacle of modern dancing, thus the fortunate event of finally having it released on this high-quality blu-ray disc, 40 years after its creation.

Trying to make sense of it - what does it say about the real-life title character Einstein? Is it about Physics? About the universe? What is the symbolism about? - is fun but not really necessary. It all depends on whether or not the viewer likes this kind of art.

I do. First of all, I love Philip Glass' music, especially from this period. These minimalist repetitive structures give me a lot of pleasure (while non-fans will be bored). And I adore modern dance. So this is entirely up my alley.

Furthermore, this is a very good production, well preserved for the home viewer with superb image and sound and a phenomenal booklet.

The lack of translated subtitles for non-English speakers enhances the idea that what is being said is not really what is important. These are just phonemes, just spoken sounds. It's not like the lines try to make any kind of sense. Like one of the essays in the booklet states, authored by Philip Glass himself, this is not about telling a story. It's about experiencing a story. It's also mentioned that the audience usually reacts by thinking "what the hell is this?" but remains seated for four and a half hours, because it is autodidactic: "You learn how to see it by seeing it."

Take for example Act 3 Scene 1. It's fascinating. The woman recites over and over the same lines that talk about the beach, supermarket aisles, the fourth of July, while the chorus repeats numbers over and over and the judge shrieks from time to time and two prisoners dance inside a jail cell. Crazy, senseless... and fascinating.

Contrary to what people might think due to the repetitious music, the piece is very, very intense, musically speaking. It's almost overwhelming in its sonorous density with waves and waves of notes, like in the ensemble for 3 flutes and two electric organs in act 3.

The other essay defines the work as "a poem in music and prose, and dance and on stage." Perfect definition. That's what it is, and I like it. Very poetic ending, by the way, with the bus driver telling the story of two lovers, over Glass' gorgeous music.

Terrific standing ovation at the end, with the composer also appearing on stage for the curtain calls.

Everything is beautiful. Incredibly compelling sets, spectacular lighting, exquisite blocking, original choreography, great music that is well performed, and it is all very well packaged.

A++ in all regards, for me - but it's not for everybody.

If you love contemporary music and modern theatrical arts, buy it, buy it, buy it!

If you don't, stay away because you'll be bored.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
June 10th, 2018, 04:43 PM
I like the music of Philip Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass

Ann Lander (sospiro)
June 10th, 2018, 06:48 PM
I like the music of Philip Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass Glass


He's scary!

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
March 13th, 2019, 11:39 PM
Lessons in Love and Violence, opera in two parts, sung in English, on blu-ray disc
Music by [Opera Lively interviewee] George Benjamin (b. 1960)
Text by [Opera Lively interviewee] Martin Crimp (b. 1956)
Premiered at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, London, UK, 10 may 2018


Orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by the composer George Benjamin; Co-Concert Master Sergey Levitin
Stage Director, Opera Lively interviewee Katie Mitchell
Set Designer Vicki Mortimer
Lighting James Farncombe
Movement Director and Associate Director Joseph Alford


King - Opera Lively interviewee Stéphane Degout
Isabel - Opera Lively interviewee Barbara Hannigan
Gaveston/Stranger - Gyula Orendt
Mortimer - Peter Hoare
Boy, later Young King - Samuel Boden
Girl - Ocean Barrington-Cook
Witness 1/Singer 1/Woman 1 - Jennifer France
Witness 2/Singer 2/Woman 2 - Krisztina Szabó
Witness 3/Madman - Andri Björn Róbertsson
Plus 20 actors and actresses


This blu-ray disc contains the recording of the world première. All regions, LPCM 24 bit 2.0 or DTS-HD Master Audio. 1081i HD 16:9, 1 BD50. Running time 88 minutes opera, 5 minutes bonus feature: Clemency Burton-Hill interviews George Benjamin, Martin Crimp, and Katie Mitchell, plus a cast gallery.

This is a co-production of the Royal Opera House with Dutch National Opera, Hamburg State Opera, Opéra de Lyon, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Gran Teatre del Liceu, and Teatro Real de Madrid.

Film by Opera Lively interviewee François Roussillon (et associés), directed for the screen by Margaret Williams.

The insert contains seven color production pictures, credits, a 4-page interview with George Benjamin and Martin Crimp, and a one-page synopsis, repeated in English, French, and German.


Dear readers, I consider this review to be somewhat preliminary, because an opera by George Benjamin can't be fully absorbed in one viewing, and this is my very first encounter with this one. I shall watch this blu-ray disc over and over, several times, over the next several months, in order to be able to match my relationship with George's Written on Skin, which I've seen live at the theater three times, each with a different cast, and multiple times online and on blu-ray disc (and was so enthusiastic about it, that I wrote and published a guidebook to it).

George, Martin, and Katie are extraordinary artists, and what they put together needs to be savored with care and time and commitment. Each opportunity to witness their artistry brings more layers of understanding and fruition.

But hey, I'm seeing this one today, so I'll be writing up my first impressions, even if they won't contain the full experience of several viewings; why not?

My most recently reviewed contemporary opera was Muhly's Marnie. I mentioned that the young composer would have a lot to learn from the master George Benjamin, in terms of intensity and pace. I was thinking of Written on Skin when I said that.

Arguably Lessons in Love and Violence would serve even better as a teaching tool for operatic intensity.

From the opening of the first of its 7 scenes, it is already terrifying, and it hits you like a brick! That is really what intense means!

Cruelty, arrogance, selfishness, love, murder, jealousy, contempt, greed, power, desire, perversion, sadism, revenge, it's all in display from the very beginning, under the horrified gaze of the two children (the boy and the girl - especially her, a non-singing role that portrays all the horror of what she witnesses), exquisitely conveyed by these extraordinary singers and actors who get to say Crimp's sophisticated text, and it is all spectacularly illustrated by George's *brilliant* vocal and instrumental score!

Oh boy! That's opera! It doesn't get any better!

A critic recently said that this work, in the wake of George's two excellent earlier efforts (Into the Little Hill and Written on Skin), solidifies the claim that Benjamin is the best English operatic composer since Purcell.

Good, but this doesn't really do him justice. He is not just the best English operatic composer since Purcell. He is simply one of the best operatic composers of all time, period, since the art form was first created. I've sustained, from my first contact with his music, that future generations will look back and quote George Benjamin together with the other geniuses such as Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, and so on.

Is this an exaggeration? Not at all. People only have a hard time seeing it, because we don't have enough degree of separation from his works, given that he is a live composer. But George is as good as any operatic composer in history. He is absolutely elite.

Just think of it. Even the greatest composers often stumbled at first, and took a while to get going. George's chamber opera Into the Little Hill, his first, was already extremely compelling and rather flawless. His second one, Written on Skin, is an astounding masterpiece of the highest caliber. His third one, this one, is just as good. By the time George composes eight or ten, his name will be etched in gold among the greatest operatic composers in history. Mark my words. It will happen.

Is George Benjamin the best operatic composer in activity? I'd say he is, but I will add that some others can put forward a claim to a tie: Salvatore Sciarrino (with an already significant number of great works to his name, more prolific than George and Thomas), and Thomas Adès (also with only three operas so far, but all three just as good as George's three - Powder her Face, The Tempest, and The Exterminating Angel), in addition to the rather irregular Philip Glass (very prolific, so that not all of his works have the highest level of quality, but when he is good, he is great - just think of Satyagraha and Akhnaten!). Are there many other worthy contemporary composers? Sure, but frankly, I don't see any of them being as good as these four.

Back to Lessons in Love and Violence. It is devastating, sad, poignant, and scary. What a portrait of the worst in human nature! The point being made is that, precisely, the two most striking characteristics of the human species, are love and violence. It's what makes us human. It's what opera is about.

George's score, oh my God! Is there anything more perfect to illustrate each of these horrible scenes? He navigates with ease from the soft and melodious sounds of love in the more intimate moments, to the most shattering, loud and disruptive sounds of violence, in order to make of the score the very incarnation of the opera's title. Not to forget, the musical interludes between the scenes are a thing of beauty! How refreshing it is, to see a genius at work!

Let's hear from George himself, how the defines the way his music matches the action:

"Each scene needs some sort of tone color to it. The first one is capricious, varied and volatile. In the second, the terrible, outside catastrophe of the kingdom comes inside the court, so I had to reflect the disaster that was happening in people's lives. that meant that the tone is steely and often desolate and gray. The scene between the King and Isabel alone equally has a different tone - a nocturne with reduced orchestration. It has an intimacy and an entirely different personality from every other scene, while the beginning of the scene where the Madman is introduced has a playfulness which is also unique in the score."

Katie Mitchell's staging is again very perceptive in conveying the sense of a slow-moving train wreck. She and her movement director use slow motion again, a device that is sort of a Katie Mitchell signature. Crimp's text is great. The cast couldn't be any better. It's the first time I see Barbara in a non-sympathetic, cold and cruel role, and she again demonstrates that her acting range is just as good as her vocal one. Plus, she is just gorgeous! Those waves of flowing hair around her pretty face are to die for. Stéphane Degout is a rare jewel as well, being one of the most gifted actors among his generation of singers. Gyula Orendt is a good surprise: I hadn't seen him before, and he is also excellent! All other roles were manned by very good artists.

With the privilege of having the live composer holding the baton, the phenomenal Orchestra of the Royal Opera House once more proves that you don't need to be an ensemble that specializes in contemporary music to do it well.

In summary, this is just perfect. A masterpiece of an opera, executed by extraordinary artists.

I was afraid that after the uniquely great Written on Skin, George would have big shoes to fill (his own, hehe). No worries. Lessons in Love and Violence is an opera does maintain George's outstanding quality.

Some critics expressed ennui with the fact that George again reached for Crimp and Mitchell to put together his new work (and the main female role went again to Barbara Hannigan), and called it "more of the same." They couldn't be more misguided. First of all, yes, give me more of the same, if this "same" is made of the best contemporary operas being composed today, executed by the best musicians. Sure, that's what we want: high quality pieces! Second, it's not really "the same." Lessons in Love and Violence is an opera with its own personality, with more voices as compared to Written on Skin, a larger ensemble, and an ambitious plot. Third, why should we blame a winning team? Would we blame Mozart for collaborating three times with Da Ponte? Should we lament the fact that the greatest soprano specializing in contemporary music, Barbara Hannigan (I'm not the only one saying it; Sir Simon Rattle is of the same opinion), is singing again an opera by her good friend and collaborator George Benjamin? Should we deplore the fact that Martin Crimp is such a competent librettist, able to put together poetry that fits perfectly the operatic medium? Why not get Katie Mitchell again, one of the best directors in activity?

Me, I'll say, give me more of this "same"! I look forward to their fourth collaboration, and I'm rather happy that I have had opportunities to interact closely with these great artists, who granted to Opera Lively fabulous exclusive interviews.

In summary, A++, maximum score in all domains! This blu-ray disc is a must buy for all lovers of contemporary opera in particular, and all opera lovers in general.

Povero Buoso
June 20th, 2019, 05:50 AM
I know this is somewhat delayed (Dissertation for my Masters has been eating up a lot of time) but I would throughly agree with you in regards to lessons in love and violence. Having been lucky enough to be there during the run I have to say it was throughly amazing to sit through live and as I am writing this just purchased the recording for my ipod (I dont like this new streaming technology and it is far to newfangled for me at 24 I'd say). I remember throughly enjoying it at the time and am looking forward to rexploring it. It will certainly make a change from my purchasing of eurovision songs, gilbert and sullvian and strauss operettas that has been the norm recently.

June 20th, 2019, 09:55 AM
Hope all goes well with the dissertation and your Master's!

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
June 22nd, 2020, 01:57 AM
Porgy and Bess on Blu-ray disc

Porgy and Bess, opera in two acts, sung in English, premiered in Boston on September 30th, 1935
Music by George Gershwin
Libretto by DuBose Haywarth and Ira Gerswhin, based on the play Porgy by DuBose Haywarth and Dorothy Haywarth, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by DuBose Haywarth (1925)

A production of San Francisco Opera, originally produced for the stage by the Washington National Opera
Stage Director Francesca Zambello (Opera Lively interviewee)
San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus Conducted by John DeMain
Chorus Director Ian Robertson
Concertmaster Kay Stern
Set Designer Peter J. Davidson
Costume Designer Paul Tazewell
Lighting Designer Mark McCullough
Choreographer Denni Sayers


Principal Roles

Porgy - Eric Owens
Bess - Laquita Mitchell
Crown - Lester Lynch
Sportin' Life - Chauncey Packer

Secondary Roles

Serena - Alteouise deVaughn
Clara - Angel Blue
Jake - Eric Greene


Mingo - Michael Bragg
Robbins - Michael Austin
Peter - Calvin Lee
Frazier - Kenneth Overton
Annie - Malesha Jessie
Lily - Amber Mercomes
Strawberry woman - Samantha McElhaney
Jim - Earl Hazell
Undertaker - Darren K. Stokes
Crab man - Ashley Faatoalia
Detective - Richard Farrell
Policeman - Louis Landman
Coroner - John Minágro
Soloists of the San Francisco Opera Chorus

Recorded live at San Francisco Opera - War Memorial Auditorium - in June 2009

Blu-ray Disc released by EuroArts and San Francisco Opera in 2014 (also available on DVD)
Directed for the screen by Frank Zamacona
Executive Producer David Gockley

Runtime - opera + curtain calls and credits, 158 minutes
Bonus material - 29 minutes
Bonus: Meet the Artists (features interviews with all principal singers and secondary roles), Meet the Stage Director (interview with Francesca Zambello), Meet the Conductor (Interview with John DeMain), and About the Opera (mini-lecture by David Gockley, featuring several historical pictures of past productions).

Regions - All (worldwide)
TV Format - 1080i Full HD 16:9
Sound Formats - PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles - English (original language), German, French, Japanese, and Korean
Insert: 7 color production pictures, credits, Musical Numbers with characters and duration, 2-page synopsis, 2-page essay by David Gockley, repeated in English, German, and French.


This sublime masterpiece is my biggest operatic pride as an American. This opera has it all: spectacular melodies, theatrical quality, interesting and iconic characters, great plot, phenomenal pace, and a score to die for that is not only very lyrical in the best operatic singing tradition, but also full of eventful stretches and charming influences of Jazz and Gospel. It is incredible that an opera with no fewer than 22 singing roles is never confusing, with every role occupying a well-defined niche, and a remarkably flowing story line.

Writing the music and the words for opera and adding to the work enchanting and emotionally rich theatricality are tricky artistic tasks, and only in some of the best works of the repertory the creators have achieved perfection. Of course, for the opera lover, those rare and cherished works that are just right in all aspects, deliver the highest peaks of pleasure. Porgy and Bess is such a work. Not a single note is superfluous or missing. Not a single word is one too many or lacking. It is too bad that George Gershwin tragically died so young. He could have left us a string of great operas if a brain tumor hadn't robbed the world of his magnificent talent.

Now, add to the above an extremely competent package that has everything that a well-done Blu-ray disc needs to have: excellent image and sound (with both PCM and DTS), check. Subtitles in original language and a few more, check. List of musical numbers with duration and characters, check. Synopsis but also a good and insightful essay, check. Interviews with singers, director, and conductor, check. An informative and historically precious lecture, check.

And then, top it all with an interesting production that is well-directed with great blocking and choreography, a bright, energetic, accomplished and well-conducted orchestra, a tuneful chorus, and an absolutely brilliant cast with gifted singers who act well too and look their parts, in virtually all roles including the comprimarios... and you get operatic heaven.

We are here in the presence of absolute perfection, from the piece itself, to the execution and performing, to the packaging. Not only that, but this version restores 30 minutes of music cut from other productions, and brings back the original recitatives (yep, it's an opera, not a musical), being arguably the definitive rendition of this astonishing masterpiece.

5 stars out of 5, 10 points out of 10, A+++ or whatever other maximum praise can only do justice to this fine product. It's not for nothing that I consider San Fran Opera the second best opera company in the United States, and this particular effort rivals or surpasses anything that the #1 company (the Met) has ever put together.

This is my second Porgy and Bess in video. I also own the Glyndebourne version with Sir Simon Rattle, and that one is a fine, fine DVD as well; but this Blu-Ray disc still beats it, given the complete score and all the qualities mentioned above. Bravo, San Fran Opera, and special kudos to Eric Owens' tour-de-force of a performance!

This product can't be recommended enough. If you haven't seen it yet, you need to get to it right now!