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MAuer
July 3rd, 2016, 11:38 AM
These are the reviewers’ assessments of new or reissued recordings from the July issue of Opernwelt:
http://www.opernwelt.de/

RECOMMENDED

- Hugo Wolf: “Kennst Du das Land?”
Songs to texts by Goethe, Mörike, and Eichendorff
Sophie Karthäuser (soprano), Eugene Asti (pianist)
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902245 (1 CD)
This is July’s CD of the Month. Karthäuser and Asti, who previously recorded a disc of Poulenc songs together, are a “perfect” team who have such security in their performance that they can display an “incomparable spontaneity of the moment.” This is Wolf interpreted in a whole new manner.

- Gluck: Iphigénie en Tauride
Conductor: Carlo Maria Giulini
Cast: Patricia Neway, Pierre Mollet, Léopold Simoneau, Robert Massard, et. al.
Profil/Naxos PH 16008
Following performances of this opera at the 1952 Aix-en-Provence Festival, the artists assembled in the studio to produce this recording for Pathé/French EMI. It’s one of a pair of reissues from early in Giulini’s career that have now been released on the Profil label. The conductor’s interpretation of this work was a milestone at a time, rejecting the prevailing tendency to “Romanticize” Gluck’s operas, and while this isn’t the sort of HIP reading heard in the recordings by Martin Pearlman and Marc Minkowski, it’s still full of “dramatic eloquence” from the overture on and documents what a powerfully theatrical conductor Giulini was. The soloists are first-rate, especially Léopold Simoneau (Pylade). The Oreste, Pierre Mollet, has a typical “Pelléas baritone” with tenorial shadings that can sometimes make it difficult to tell his voice apart from Simoneau’s, but makes their duets dramatically convincing. Baritone Robert Massard is also unusually light casting in the bass role of Thoas. Soprano Patricia Neway was among the greatest singer-actors/actresses of the postwar era, and her Iphigénie is full of intensity. (She actually won a Tony for her role as the Mother Abbess in the original Broadway production of The Sound of Music.)

- Pergolesi: La Serva Padrona/Cimarosa: Il Maestro di Cappella
Conductor: Carlo Maria Giulini (Pergolesi), Renato Fasano (Cimarosa)
Soloists: Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, Rosanna Carteri (Pergolesi); Sesto Bruscantini (Cimarosa)
Hänssler/Profil PH 16009 (1 CD)
This is the other Giulini reissue from Profil, paired here with Cimarosa’s monodrama Il Maestro di Cappella. The recording of La Serva Padrona was part of a series of live La Scala performances released by EMI in the 1950s, whereas Il Maestro di Cappella features conductor Renato Fasano, the Virtuosi di Roma, and instrumentalists from the Collegium Musicum Italicum. La Scala’s orchestra is really too big for Pergolesi’s intermezzo and gives it the weight of a Verdi or Puccini opera; however, Giulini is still able to draw springy playing from his massive forces. Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (Uberto) was a leading interpreter of the roles of Boris Godunov and Philip II in the postwar period, and here he also proves himself an exemplary buffo stylist who makes the most of nuances in text and music. Rosanna Carteri, best known for her portrayals of Violetta and Mimi, has the right vocal lightness along with an appropriate touch of venom for Serpetta, and her exchanges with Rossi-Lemeni are a delight to hear. The same high quality is evident in the Cimarosa performance, with Sesto Bruscantini at the height of his vocal and comedic talents as the Maestro.

- Corigliano: The Ghosts of Versailles
Conductor: James Conlon
Cast: Patricia Racette, Christopher Maltman, Lucas Meachem, Lucy Schaufer, Guanqun Yu, Joshua Guerrero, Renée Rapier, Patti LuPone, et. al.
Pentatone PTC 5186 538 (2 CDs)

- Higdon: Cold Mountain
Conductor: Miguel Harth-Bedoya
Cast: Nathan Gunn, Isabel Leonard, Emily Fons, Jay Hunter-Morris, Anthony Michaels-Moore, et. al.
Pentatone PTC 5186 583 (2 CDs)
These two releases – live recordings from the Los Angeles and Santa Fe Operas, respectively – are part of Pentatone’s series of American opera recordings. Corigliano’s and Higdon’s works are characteristic of late 20th/early 21st century American opera: worthy, likeable, and modern – but not too modern. Star performers are nice, but not a requirement (though there is certainly no lack of them here).

- Christian Gerhaher: “FolksLied”
Includes Haydn’s Scottish and Welsh folksongs, Beethoven’s Scottish folksongs, and Britten’s Folksong Arrangements
With Gerold Huber (pianist), Anton Bacharovsky (violinist), and Sebastian Klinger (cellist)
BR Klassik 4035719001310 (1 CD)
Between 1792 and the second decade of the 19th century, the Scottish publisher George Thomson commissioned arrangements for vocalist and piano of Scottish folksongs from Haydn and then Beethoven (with Haydn also arranging some Welsh folksongs). Thomson initially provided the composers with the melodies for their arrangements and afterward allowed the text to be fitted to the music. In 1927, German texts were used with these pieces, though in most cases, it’s not clear whether or not these were translations of the English originals, and it was “auf Deutsch” that they were recorded by Fritz Wunderlich, Hermann Prey, and now – in part -- Christian Gerhaher. (The Beethoven songs have English texts.) The baritone gets high marks for his interpretation of these and Britten’s Folksong Arrangements, singing with intelligence, wit, and an attractive timbre.

- Britten: Works for Voice and Guitar
Includes Songs From the Chinese, op. 58; Folksong Arrangements, vol. 6 – England; Noctural After John Dowland, op. 70; Dowland: "Come, Heavy Sleep"
Ivonne Fuchs (mezzo), Georg Gulyás (guitarist)
Proprius PRSACD (1 SACD)
Britten originally composed Songs From the Chinese in 1957 for his partner, tenor Peter Pears, and guitarist Julian Bream. The soloist here is the German mezzo Ivonne Fuchs, joined by Swedish (though likely with Hungarian roots) guitarist Georg Gulyás. Fuchs’ English has a touch of a Teutonic accent, but never comes across as unidiomatic. She and Gulyás achieve the proper balance between emotional immediacy and Britten’s characteristic “noble” reserve, and manage the abrupt mood shifts from bustling activity to melancholy with a wide range of interpretive nuances. Their approach is quite different from that of Pears and Bream, but still a worthwhile alternative. There is a “living, fresh” reading of the six pieces from volume 6 of the Folksong Arrangements, and Gulyás delivers an “exemplary” account of Nocturnal, also written for Bream.

- “BacHasse: Opposites Attract”
Selection of vocal and chamber music pieces by J.S. Bach and Johann Adolph Hasse
Benno Schachtner (countertenor), Stefan Temmingh (recorder), Wiebke Weidanz (harpsichord), Domen Marincic (viola da gamba and box organ)
Accent ACC 24315 (1 CD)
Not sure how “opposite” these two Baroque composers are (Bach admired Hasse’s music and made regular visits to the Dresden Opera), but this appealing album contrasts their compositional styles. There are top-drawer contributions from recorder virtuoso Stefan Temmingh and the instrumentalists of The Gentleman’s Band, and while alto countertenor Benno Schachtner doesn’t display as much of an expressive palette as his colleagues, one can still perceive the inspiring effect these works have on him.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Zelenka: Italian Arias
Conductor/orchestra: Petr Wagner, Ensemble Tourbillon
Soloists: Hana Blazíková (soprano), Marketa Cukrová (contralto), Tomás Selc (bass-baritone)
Accent ACC 24306 (1 CD)
When the position of music director at the Dresden Court Opera became vacant in 1729 through the demise of the incumbent, Jan Dismus Zelenka was among those competing to succeed him. (The choice finally went to Johann Adolph Hasse.) The eight Italian arias on this disc comprised what might be considered Zelenka’s job application. Listening to them reveals his lack of background in both opera and the setting of Italian textx, but also shows that, where imaginative, original music was concerned, Zelenka was one of the masters of the period. The lion’s share of the arias were written for soprano, and Hana Blazíková sings them with secure intonation, stylistic assurance, and flawless coloratura. There are also noteworthy contributions from contralto Marketa Cukrová and bass-baritone Tomás Selc, who share the remaining three arias. Unfortunately, the Ensemble Tourbillon, conducted by Petr Wagner, isn’t quite up to the same level as the soloists.

SAVE YOUR MONEY

- Wagner: Lohengrin
Conductor: Hans Knappertsbusch
Cast: Hans Hopf, Ingrid Björner, Astrid Varnay, Hans Günter Nöcker, Kurt Böhme, Josef Metternich
Orfeo 900 153 D (3 CDs)
This 1963 live recording from the Bavarian State Opera has some things going for it: Ingrid Björner’s majestic Elsa, the Telramund of Hans Günter Nöcker, and luxury casting of Josef Metternich as the Herald. Hans Hopf is a robust Heldentenor Lohengrin with beautiful piani, but his intonation isn’t always secure; Astrid Varnay’s Ortrud is not of the same caliber as her 1953 Bayreuth portrayal; and Kurt Böhme is overtaxed as King Heinrich. And it’s obvious Knappertsbusch hadn’t sufficiently rehearsed with the Bavarian State Orchestra’s musicians. One might charitably describe their unison playing as “spontaneous,” and while tempos are often surprisingly fluid, the pace still bogs down repeatedly. In a discography that contains so many excellent recordings of Lohengrin, this one is only middle-of-the-pack.

- Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Conductor: Rudolf Kempe
Cast: Ferdinand Frantz, Tiana Lemnitz, Bernd Aldenhoff, Heinrich Pflanzl, Kurt Böhme, Gerhard Unger, Emilie Walter-Sacks, et. al.
Hänssler/Profil PH 13006 (4 CDs)
You know you’re in trouble when the finest performance in this opera comes from the David, in this case Gerhard Unger’s world-class portrayal. While Kempe’s 1956 recording of Die Meistersinger with the Berlin Philharmonic has long been regarded as a reference set, this one, a studio recording made in 1951 with forces from the Dresden State Opera and Dresden Staatskapelle, is a different story. It previously circulated on the “gray market” in spite of the poor sound quality; now the restored version has been officially released as part of the Semper Opera Edition. Three of the principals – Ferdinand Frantz (Hans Sachs), Bernd Aldenhoff (Walther von Stolzing), and Kurt Böhme (Pogner) – have singing and interpretive styles that to modern ears will sound ponderous and static; Heinrich Pflanzl’s Beckmesser, though nuanced and technically secure, is delivered almost entirely in Sprechgesang. Tiana Lemnitz (Eva) was in her 50s when the recording was made and had experienced severe personal wartime trauma, so while her singing is also technically secure, there is little to be heard of the lyrical fullness that characterized her earlier recordings. The Staatskapelle’s playing is weighted with a heavy solemnity that Kempe does little to counteract, with the preludes to the first and third acts stretched nearly to a crawl.

MAuer
July 10th, 2016, 11:28 AM
Here are summaries of the reviews from the July-August 2016 issue of Das Opernglas.
http://www.opernglas.de/

RECOMMENDED

- Berg: Wozzeck
Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Director: Andreas Homoki
Cast: Christian Gerhaher, Gun-Brit Barkmin, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Lars Woldt, Brandon Jovanovich, Mauro Peter, et. al.
Accentus Music ACC20363 (1 DVD)
This performance from the Zürich Opera has it all: an outstanding conductor, orchestra, and cast, and a technically polished, psychologically compelling staging. The sets consist of a series of wooden frames in progressively smaller sizes among which the soloists move. The structure means they are seen only from the waist up and all of them wear chalky white facial make-up and costumes (except for Marie’s “fire red” wig), making them seem like puppets in an especially creepy, narrow, oppressive world. Christian Gerhaher’s soft-grained baritone is almost too attractive for Wozzeck and he sings with a clear musical line; he’s also able to convey the figure’s loneliness and despair without overdoing it. Gun-Brit Barkmin’s Marie provides a sharp contrast to Gerhaher -- vocally and dramatically shrill and restless, nearly manic-depressive in her actions and emotions, by turns vulnerable and defiant yet always providing glimpses of the emptiness underneath. Unlike Gerhaher’s “relatively human” protagonist, the other figures exhibit body language that appears increasingly surreal and makes Wozzeck’s perception even more nightmarishly claustrophobic. Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Captain) and Lars Woldt (Doctor) sing with great clarity and articulation, while Brandon Jovanovich’s Drum Major remains somewhat pallid and is memorable for Homoki’s “obvious” (i.e., not very subtle) Personenführung in the case of this character. On the podium of Zürich’s orchestra, General Music Director Fabio Luisi manages to provide sensitive accompaniment for the singers while eliciting rich, clear, precise, and well-structured playing from his musicians.

- Beethoven: Fidelio
Conductor: Lorin Maazel
Cast: Eva Marton, James King, Theo Adam, Aage Haugland, Lilian Watson, Thomas Moser, Tom Krause, Horst Hiestermann, Kurt Rydl
Orfeo C 908 1521 (2 CDs)
This live recording is of an Austrian radio broadcast from the 1983 Salzburg Festival. The reviewer gives high marks to the cast; aside from the two protagonists, one is unlikely to encounter soloists of this caliber in these roles today. Eva Marton’s Leonore had come under fire from the critics when this production premiered the previous year not so much for the missed high B in her aria but for her pronounced Hungarian accent in the spoken dialogue. The reviewer doesn’t say so, but presumably at least the problem with the high note was cleared up in this performance. Apparently, what the listener does get some inkling of is a mishap during “O namenlose Freude” when the soprano took a step backward and tumbled into a washtub that was onstage. (Why was a washtub in a subterranean dungeon?) It left her in the grotesque position of finishing the duet with her legs, encased in thigh-high boots, sticking up in the air. Yet she and James King made it through their music without missing a beat. Of King, the reviewer simply notes that he replaced Reiner Goldberg from the previous year as Florestan. Lorin Maazel, on the podium of the excellent Vienna Philharmonic, leads a “magnificent” account of Beethoven’s score with a unique combination of “analytical coolness, rhythmic precision, and grand tonal gestures.” So where does this recording fit? The reviewer sums up his comments by lauding this performance as “Festival level” and a significant interpretive and historical documentation. That sounds like a recommendation to me.

- Leoncavallo: Zazà
Conductor: Maurizio Benini
Cast: Ermonela Jaho, Riccardo Massi, Stephen Gaertner, Patricia Bardon, David Stout, et. al.
Opera Rara ORC55 (2 CDs)
This live recording of a concert performance last November from London’s Barbican Hall gets a review that’s positively glowing. Conducting the “thoroughly engaged and highly professional” BBC Orchestra, Maurizio Benini fully enters into the spirit of the turn of the 20th century Zeitgeist that characterizes this work, and his sparkling interpretation evinces how seriously he takes Leoncavallo’s instructions. Ermonela Jaho is ideally cast as the French music hall singer who breaks off with her lover when she discovers he’s not only married, but has a little daughter. She captures Zazà’s capricious personality with her “scintillating” soprano, expressive variety and nuance, and virtuosic singing. As the married lover Milio Dufresne, the young tenor Riccardo Massi impresses with his attractive, colorful voice and “marvelously controlled” vocal production. The reviewer only cautions that he should take care not to overemphasize vocal color in the future so that his instrument can retain its suppleness and elegance. In the role of Cascart, another music hall singer, Stephen Gaertner displays a baritone with an uncommon tonal beauty, especially in the upper register, that suggests he has a very promising career ahead in the Italian repertoire. The four smaller roles are also superbly cast, and the recorded sound is excellent.

Martinů: Julietta (sung in German translation)
Conductor: Sebastian Weigle
Cast: Kurt Streit, Juanita Lascarro, Beau Gibson, Boris Grappe, Nina Tarandek, et. al.
Oehms Classics OC 966 (2 CDs)
This is another installment in Oehms Classics’ series of live recordings from the Frankfurt Opera, and if you don’t mind the performance sung “auf Deutsch” instead of in the original French, this is a good choice. In fact, if you check Presto Classical, it’s the only choice, but Wikipedia lists three other recordings: a 1962 live French language version; a 1964 version from the Prague National Theater that is presumably sung in a later Czech translation; and a 2002 performance from the Bregenz Festival with Eva Maria Westbroek and Johannes Chum in the leads, which I suspect was probably sung in French. The opera deals with a traveling salesman named Michel who is searching for a woman – Julietta – whose voice he once heard in the wilderness. He finds her in a strange seaside town where all of the residents live in a dream world and can’t remember the recent past. Michel ends up stuck in this world himself by the opera’s end, but not before he is provoked into shooting Julietta – and given the odd circumstances, doesn’t know if she’s really dead or it’s only an illusion. Michel is sung here by Kurt Streit with a lyrical character tenor, and he shapes this multifaceted figure with sensitivity. He’s joined by Juanita Lascarro’s seductive Julietta and other cast members who assume a variety of roles (including Michel and Julietta, there are 24 of them). Among the best is Beau Gibson, whose police officer is a Heldentenor parody, and who also impresses as the postal official, forest guard, and locomotive engineer. Boris Grappe adjusts his attractive baritone to the characters he portrays, producing a rough sound as the man with a helmet and the blind beggar, then delivering supple vocalism as the seller of memories. Another standout is mezzo Nina Tarandek as the small Arab, the first resident of the strange town whom Michel encounters. Leading the Frankfurt Opera and Museum Orchestra, Sebastian Weigle has Martinů’s complicated rhythms under firm control, and his musicians render an idiomatic performance. The recording technology produces a rather cool, dry quality that takes some of the luster from the “Romanticized” strings, but also highlights what the reviewer describes as the “sharp-tongued commentary” of the woodwinds and the absurd character of this work.

- Corigliano: The Ghosts of Versailles
Conductor: James Conlon
Cast: Christopher Maltman, Patricia Racette, Lucas Meachem, Lucy Schaufer, Guanqun Yu, Joshua Guerrero, Robert Brubaker, Stacey Tappan, Brenton Ryan
Pentatone PTC 5186 538 (2 CDs)
The reviewer has such mild complaints – Lucy Schaufer’s slightly long in the tooth Susanna, Joshua Guerrero’s rather shrill Count Almaviva – that this recording probably merits inclusion among the recommended ones. Corigliano’s opera, with its various textual references and differing musical quotes along with an enormous assortment of characters, can tax the listener’s patience at times and it’s best to have the libretto handy in order to follow all of the plot strands. However, conductor James Conlon maintains vigilant oversight in this live Los Angeles Opera performance, has his massive forces well under control, and drives the action forward with an “iron” hand. The finest soloists are the baritones Christopher Maltman and Lucas Meachem, the former as an attractive voiced, elegant Beaumarchais and the latter as a powerfully impressive Figaro. Patricia Racette uses her tangy, vibrato-rich soprano to portray the embittered Marie Antoinette, only adding gentle colors in the final aria when the Queen’s ghost is at last reconciled to her fate in life. Robert Brubaker effectively deploys his healthy character tenor in the high-lying part of Bégearss, and the extreme heights of Florestine’s music hold no terrors for Stacey Tappan. Guanqun Yu brings “wonderfully blossoming” tone to Rosina, while tenor Brenton Ryan draws favorable notice as Léon, the Countess’ illegitimate son.

- Beethoven: Missa Solemnis
Conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Soloists: Laura Aiken, Bernarda Fink, Johannes Chum, Ruben Drole
Sony 89853 13592 (1 CD)
This recording which the late Nikolaus Harnoncourt made with the Concertus Musicus Wien ensemble that he founded and the Arnold Schoenberg Choir, another ensemble with which he was closely associated, is a fine contribution to the pioneering Maestro’s musical legacy. The reviewer notes that the conductor has the “dimensions of this monumental work” firmly in hand and precisely observes all of the score’s dynamic and tempo markings. It’s a powerfully emotional reading, from the “wild force” that concludes the Gloria to the ecstatic Credo, the gentle consolation of the Benedictus, and pleas for divine mercy in the Agnus Dei that are interspersed with sudden bursts of martial music before resolution comes in the Dona nobis pacem. The voices of the four soloists harmonize “extraordinarily well” with each other.

- Anna Prohaska: “Serpent and Fire”
Conductor/orchestra: Giovanni Antonini, Il Giardino Armonico
Selections from operas by Handel, Purcell, Cavalli, Hasse. Graupner, Sartorio, Locke, and da Casrrovillari
Alpha 250 (1 CD)
The title of this album refers to two historic Queens and the manner in which they chose to end their lives – Cleopatra by a venomous serpent’s bite, Dido by immolation. The arias included are limited to the period between 1640 and 1740, and unsurprisingly, Handel’s Giulio Cesare and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas are among the operas represented. (Okay, technically, Cleopatra is still very much alive at the conclusion of Handel’s work.) Anna Prohaska sings this material with a wonderful, clearly focused soprano, and she has excellent partners in conductor Giovanni Antonini and his HIP ensemble Il Giardino Armonico.

- Egils Silins: Latvian Songs
With Maris Skuja (pianist)
Accolade LMIC/SKANI 045 (1 CD)
The Latvian bass-baritone who has made a name for himself in Vienna as Boris Godunov and Gounod’s Méphistophélès presents an interesting program of art songs from his homeland. Most of the selections were written in the first half of the 20th century, with eight songs each by Emīls Darziņš and Jazeps Vītols, and the balance by composers who were students of Vītols. The mood is predominantly elegiac and melancholy, and Silins’ interpretation is sensitive, with just the right touch of pathos. For many listeners, this disc will be a welcome introduction to a body of work that, due to both language and Latvia’s turbulent history, is little known outside the Baltic region.

- Julius Röntgen: “Alle Lust will Ewigkeit”
With Robbert Muuse (baritone) and Micha van Weers (pianist)
Challenge CC72709 (1 CD)
Born in Leipzig in 1855, Julius Röntgen immigrated to The Netherlands as a young man and eventually became a Dutch citizen. On this CD of Röntgen’s Lieder by Dutch baritone Robbert Muuse, all of the songs are set to German texts with the exception of four pieces in Dutch, among them “Amoreuse Liedkens,” op. 29, and the English “Charon, a Modern Greek Ballad.” The disc’s title is taken from Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, also the source for Mahler’s Third Symphony (not to mention Strauss’ tone poem of the same title), and another text, “Das Pavillon aus Porzellan” (The Pavilion of Porcelein), appears as “Von der Jugend” (Of Youth) in Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. Muuse presents a varied program that encompasses the absurd “Galgenliedern” (Gallows Songs) with verses by Christian Morgenstern, the poetic setting of Hans Bethge’s “Chinesisches Lieder” (Chinese Songs), and the deeply romantic “Three Nietzsche Songs” and the setting of Goethe’s “Prometheus.” With his beautiful, rounded voice, the baritone effectively conveys the diverse moods of these songs and receives sensitive support from pianist Micha van Weers.

- Christina Landshamer: Songs by Ullmann and Schumann
With Gerold Huber (pianist)
Oehms 1848 (1 CD)
Viktor Ullmann, who was imprisoned in the artists’ Theresienstadt concentration camp and died at Auschwitz-Birkenau, is best known for his opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis. This recording from Munich-born soprano Christina Landshamer and pianist Gerold Huber presents a different facet of Ullmann’s work with the Lied compositions Three Sonnets From the Portuguese (op. 29) and Six Sonnets of Louïse Labé (op. 34). The first uses Rainer Maria Rilke’s German translation of verses by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, while the latter are set to autobiographical textx by France’s best-known woman poet of the 16th century. Both deal with highly sensitive women suffering from unfulfilled love, and Ullmann has paired them with powerfully emotional music. Landshamer has also selected some of Schumann’s lesser known Lieder, such as his Nikolaus Lenau cycle (op. 90) for the balance of her program. She sings with considerable charm and deep feeling, doing full justice to these pieces, and has the experienced Gerold Huber as her keyboard partner.

- “Hilde Güden Sings Operetta”
Conductor/orchestra: Horst Stein, Vienna Philharmonic (for two opera arias)
Includes arias from Die tote Stadt and Louise; operetta arias by Johann Strauss the Younger, Leo Fall, Franz Lehár, Oscar Straus, and Emmerich Kálmán
Klassik Center Kassel/Decca 482 0656 (2 CDs)
The operetta arias on this set were recorded in the 1950s by the Austrian soprano, a mainstay of the Vienna State Opera in the second half of the 20th century, whereas “Glück, das mir verblieb” from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt and “Depuis le jour” from Charpentier’s Louise come from 1969. Güden (or Gueden, as her surname was usually spelled in English) has a clear, silvery timbre with a silky sheen that’s ideal for Viennese operetta, and also possesses the lightness and secure coloratura technique for the Charpentier aria.

- “Shostakovich Under Stalin’s Shadow”
Symphonies 5, 8, and 9 performed by Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 47495 201 (2 CDs)
As Music Director of the Boston Symphony, Andris Nelsons has undertaken the ambitious project of performing all 15 of Shostakovich’s symphonies with his Massachusetts musicians under the umbrella title of “Shostakovich Under Stalin’s Shadow.” This latest recording on DG, with whom the conductor has an exclusive contract, joins the disc of Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony, which is already on the market, and will soon be followed by a set with Symphonies 6 and 7. The information contained in this single-page feature really isn’t a review, but an overview of the Maestro’s engagements for the current and coming seasons. (Obviously, this was written before he decided to withdraw from the Bayreuth Festival’s new production of Parsifal this summer.) Much can happen in four years, but it will be interesting to see if he holds to plans to conduct Bayreuth’s new Ring cycle that’s set to begin in 2020. Otherwise, his calendar includes two concert performances of Otto Nicolai’s Il Templario next month at the Salzburg Festival; Der Rosenkavalier at London’s Royal Opera House in December, 2016, and January, 2017, that will feature Renée Fleming’s final appearances as the Marschallin; Rusalka at the Bavarian State Opera in June, 2017; and a new recording of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (presumably on DG).

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Beethoven: Fidelio
Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst
Director: Claus Guth
Cast: Adrianne Pieczonka, Jonas Kaufmann, Tomasz Konieczny, Hans-Peter König, Olga Bezsmertna, Norbert Ernst, et. al.
Sony 88875193519 (1 DVD)
No, one of the minuses is not Claus Guth’s unconventional staging, which gets a thumbs-up from the reviewer. In an interpretation which is “psychologized” instead of realistic – dialogue replaced with “associative” sounds, Leonore and Pizarro given “shadow” doubles – Guth wins plaudits for his strong Personenführung, and the two protagonists are praised for the “concentration” they bring to their roles. Best among the soloists is Jonas Kaufmann, whose superlative Florestan really elevates the quality of the performance. There’s a lot to like about Adrianne Pieczonka’s Leonore, too, with her bright, radiant, fundamentally lyric soprano that blends well with Kaufmann’s tenor. However, some effortful high notes keep this from being an ideal portrayal. Both Tomasz Konieczny’s Pizarro and Hans-Peter König’s Rocco are vocally more rough-grained; Olga Bezsmertna, on the other hand, sings Marzelline with a warm lyric soprano that’s pleasantly free of any soubrette mannerisms. The Vienna Philharmonic sounds fabulous, though it takes a little while before Franz Welser-Möst can really light a fire under his forces. The second act, with the third Leonore overture inserted, is powerful stuff.

- Puccini: La Rondine
Conductor: Roberto Rizzi Brignoli
Director: Rolando Villazón
Cast: Dinara Alieva, Charles Castronovo, Alvaro Zambrano, Alexandra Hutton, Stephen Bronk, Noel Bouley, Matthew Newlin, Thomas Lehmann, Siobhan Stagg, Elbenita Kajtazi, Stephanie Lauricella, Carlton Ford
Delos 7011 (1 Blu-ray disc)
Rolando Villazón’s production for the Deutsche Oper Berlin is “conventional in the best sense” in its ability to capture the score’s mixture of operetta, romantic drama, and musical show. The only non-traditional item here is the addition of a male trio in faceless masks who “comment” on events and turn out to be Magda’s former lovers. The action is also updated to the 1920s (something already done in the ROH/Met version starring Gheorghiu and Alagna). The soloists act well and generally don’t overdue things, though the character of Prunier displays a touch of Villazón’s mischievousness. The vocal performances aren’t always satisfying. Dinara Alieva (Magda) makes a favorable impression with her dark, sonorous timbre and strong midrange, so that one is willing to overlook a bit of unevenness in her vocal production. Charles Castronovo (Ruggero) displays musicality in his duets with Alieva and is obviously engaged with his character, but his tenor has a rapid, noticeable vibrato that’s hard to ignore. Alexandra Hutton is a fine Lizette, and all of those is smaller roles give flawless portrayals. Alvaro Zambrano’s Prunier is sung with vocal flexibility but a very dry timbre. One of the finest contributions here is made by the DOB Orchestra under the baton of Roberto Rizzi Brignoli, whose top-notch playing does full justice to Puccini’s melodious, colorful music.

- Puccini: Turandot
Conductor: Zubin Mehta
Director: Chen Kaige
Cast: Maria Guleghina, Marco Berti, Alexis Voulgaridou, Alexander Tsymbalyuk, Fabio Previati, Vicenç Esteve, Roger Padullés, et. al.
C Major 750008 (1 DVD)
On balance, this opening performance from the first Festival del Mediterrani in Valencia has quite a few more pluses than minuses. The lavish sets and costumes are a feast for the eye: beautiful, richly detailed, and colorful. The reviewer’s real quibble is with Chinese film director Chen Kaige’s staging, which evokes a world of fairytale images that have little to do with the “real” China and downplays the brutal elements in the drama. Events take place before the walls of a gigantic temple complex that includes the obligatory long stairway reaching nearly to the flies. In spite of a rather “placid” Personenführung that doesn’t make as much use of the soloists’ acting talents as it could, Chen’s interpretation does have some appealing details, chiefly the greater than usual emphasis on the Ice Princess’ more human side. This Turandot wanders the imperial capital dressed as a normal woman so she can observe the people and her prospective husband incognito. Maria Guleghina is able to capture both facets of her character, though Turandot’s deep emotional reaction to Liù’s death and the final lowering of her defenses to Calaf came across better in the theater than on the small screen. But vocally Guleghina is up to the part, skillfully deploying her big, dark soprano. Marco Berti is even more assured as Calaf and sings with sheer inexhaustible power, though his portrayal is not especially nuanced and relies more on a big sound than lustrous tone and refined singing. In spite of a midrange that’s often rather hard, Alexis Voulgaridou is an expressive Liù who phrases beautifully in her upper register. Alexander Tsymbalyuk brings a vibrato-rich, ebony bass to Timur, but a directorial approach that has him often fixedly staring is even more conspicuous on the DVD. Among the trio of ministers, the voice of baritone Fabio Previati (Ping) is easier on the ears than those of Vicenç Esteve (Pang) and Roger Padullés (Pong). The chorus of the Generalitat Valenciana is in superb form, as is the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana conducted by the venerable Zubin Mehta. The Maestro knows this opera to the finest details, and it’s evident in his reading of Puccini’s score.

SAVE YOUR MONEY

- Puccini: Gianni Schicchi
Conductor: Grant Gershon
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Plácido Domingo, Arturo Chacón-Cruz, Andriana Chuchman, Meredith Arwady, Stacey Tappan, Craig Colclough, Peabody Southwell, Philip Cokorinos, Liam Bonner, Isaiah Morgan, E. Scott Levin, Kihun Yoon, Daniel Armstrong, Gabriel Vamvulescu
Sony 88985315089 (1 DVD)
There are some pluses here – Andriana Chuchman’s pretty, lovable Lauretta, Arturo Chacón-Cruz’s attractively sung Rinuccio, and Grant Gershon’s lively reading of Puccini’s partitur – but also enough minuses to tip this one into the last category. As popular as he is with the audience, Plácido Domingo sings a routine Schicchi without any of the fine nuances one hears from the likes of Tito Gobbi, and Meredith Arwady is simply credited with throwing her considerable physical weight around as Zita. Woody Allen’s staging is loaded with cheap theatrical gags, from Dr. Spinelloccio tossing some coins toward Buoso Donati’s corpse, mistaking it for a beggar, to the usual howls of outrage from the relatives at the reading of the will, and Ms. Arwady’s Zita using her impressive bulk reinforced with a knife and cooking spoon to assert herself. There’s little enough to laugh about at the conclusion, however, when Allen has Zita return to the house and stab Schicchi, leaving the little boy who brought Gianni to Buoso’s domicile to collapse on Schicchi’s mortal remains. Santo Loquasto’s realistically detailed 1920s sets and costumes are about the only appealing elements in this production.

Soave_Fanciulla
July 17th, 2016, 03:13 AM
I concur about Zaza, and am more deternined than ever now to buy Wozzeck. Christian Gerhaher has joined Gerald Finley and Peter Mattei as one of my favourite baritones.

MAuer
August 4th, 2016, 10:57 AM
From the August issue of Opernwelt (http://www.opernwelt.de/)

RECOMMENDED

Gounod: Cinq-Mars
Conductor: Ulf Schirmer
Cast: Mathias Vidal, Véronique Gens, Tassis Christoyannis, Andrew Foster-Williams, Norma Mahoun, André Heyboer, Marie Lenormand, Jacques-Greg Belobo
Ediciones Singulares (Madrid) ES 1024 (2 CDs)
This studio recording from the Fondazione Palazzetto Bru Zane was made following concert performances of Gounod’s opera at Munich’s Prince Regent’s Theater with the same conductor, orchestra, and most of the same soloists, and has been selected as this issue’s CD of the Month. Composed late in Gounod’s career (the 10th of his 12 operas), the work is a fictionalized treatment of the life of the Marquis de Cinq-Mars, an ambitious man who led a conspiracy against Cardinal Richelieu and ended up on the scaffold at the age of 22. The librettists invented a romantic relationship between the Marquis and the Princess Marie de Gonzague, who is supposed to marry the King of Poland, and gave the young aristocrat a best friend, the Conseiller de Thou, in whom he confides, much like Don Carlo and Posa in Verdi’s opera. Other characters include Père Joseph, an emissary of the Cardinal and the villain of the piece; the courtesan Marion Delorme, who offers to hold a ball at her digs to facilitate the conspirators’ plotting; the Vicomte de Fontrailles, another conspirator; and the spy Eustache. There are the usual assortment of intrigues and complications before Cinq-Mars seals his doom by negotiating a treaty with Spain, something he had no authority to do and which amounted to treason. The opera ends in Cinq-Mars’ prison, where Marie assures him of her love and he sings a final prayer with de Thou before he is led to his execution.
In this performance, Ulf Schirmer has the excellent Munich Radio Orchestra and Bavarian Radio Chorus firmly in his grasp, while the soloists are led by the stellar Marie of Véronique Gens, whose warm soprano gives the part seductive shading. Mathias Vidal replaced the originally scheduled tenor in the title role at the final performance and remained for the recording. His haute-contre is missing the dramatic attack and lyrical exuberance one would ideally want in this figure, but he sings with great accuracy. The standout among the lower voices is Tassis Christoyannis as de Thou with his supple baritone. Gounod’s music is beautiful, filled with “captivatingly fragrant melodies of melancholy elegance,” and makes this rarity well worth reviving. The reviewer’s only real quarrel is with Bru Zane’s accompanying book and the sloppy manner in which the libretto has been printed, with arbitrary line breaks guaranteed to annoy anyone who loves French verse.

- Vivier: Kopernikus
Conductor: Klaus Simon
Soloists: Svea Schildknecht, Dorothea Winkel, Uta Buchheister, Barbara Ostertag, Neal Banerjee, Ki-Su Park, Florian Kontschak
Bastille musique 1 (1 CD)
Claude Vivier’s only chamber opera is subtitled “Opéra rituel de mort,” and features a principal character named Agni who is at once both living and dead. (No, not a zombie, at least as far as I can tell!) In a succession of “densely clocked, fluorescing” scenes, this figure encounters an assemblage of (spirit) voices from the worlds of science, literature, and music – Copernicus, naturally; Lewis Carroll, the Queen of the Night, Tristan and Isolde, Mozart, Merlin, and so on. The reviewer describes these as a “fluting, piping and murmuring, a singing, sounds and whispers” that make one’s head spin – an “(apparently) naïve trip in an aesthetic, existential Twilight Zone” that explores the nature of the transitory. The Freiburg Opera Factory and Holst Sinfonietta led by Klaus Simon, South German Radio, and the new Berlin label Bastille musique are all to be commended for this exemplary contribution to the operatic discography.

- Johann Strauss the Younger: Der Zigeunerbaron
Conductor: Lawrence Foster
Cast: Nikolai Schukoff, Claudia Barainsky, Jochen Schmeckenbecher, Markus Brück, Kathuna Mikaberidze, Heinz Zednik, Jasmina Sakr, Paul Kaufmann, Renate Pitscheider
Pentatone PIC 5186 482 (2 CDs)
This new recording from the North German Radio uses Michael Rot’s 2004 critical edition of this operetta which relies on original sources and corrects much of the damage to this work done first by 19th century Imperial censors and later by well-meaning individuals who reworked the score to give it more Hungarian romance. The North German Philharmonic plays with great accuracy under the baton of Lawrence Foster while still infusing Strauss’ music with the necessary verve. The soloists do a good job, even if they won’t make one forget some of the outstanding historical interpreters of these roles. As Sándor Barinkay, the titular Gypsy Baron, Nikolai Schukoff displays an attractive tenor with a radiant top, and one only wishes he also sang with a little more ease. Claudia Barainsky is a “mature” Saffi, while baritone Markus Brück (née Schmeckenbecher) takes the unpleasant saber-rattling out of Count Homonay’s recruiting song. Jochen Schmeckenbecher (Markus’ brother) is youthful-sounding as the hog breeder Kálmán Zsupán, and portrays the character in the good old traditional manner without overdoing things.

- Stockhausen: Momente (1965)
Conductor: Karlheinz Stockhausen
Soloist: Martina Arroyo
With the West German Radio Chorus and instrumentalists from the West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Wergo 67742 (1 CD)
Though Stockhausen may be best known for his seven-opera cycle Licht, which he wrote between 1977 and 2003, his works from earlier decades have a “pioneering freshness” that exerts its own appeal. Among them is Momente (Moments), which had its world premiere in Cologne in 1962. This composition has an open, mobile structure that allows its sections to be rearranged and new sections to be added. When he wrote Momente (for soprano, four choral groups, and 13 instrumentalists), Stockhausen said he wanted to eliminate the dualism separating vocal and instrumental music, notes and silence, and musical sounds from other noises. The soloist, choral groups, and musicians appear to have come together for an imaginary, bizarre theatrical performance; one hears applause and foot stomping, bits of coloratura, litany-like passages, “hysterical” choruses and “gesticulating” trombones joined by all sorts of “material noises.” The reviewer cautions that this work requires time and quiet for listening so that one is not confused by the “initial turbulences.” In 1965, Stockhausen added new segments to Momente for a performance in Donaueschingen, and it’s this version that is heard on the reissue from Wergo. The recording is “tonally still very present,” according to the reviewer, with the “fabulous” Martina Arroyo and the composer himself leading Cologne’s West German Radio Chorus and instrumentalists from the West German Radio Symphony Orchestra.

- Joan Sutherland: “Love Live Forever. The Romance of Musical Comedy”
Conductor/orchestra: Richard Bonynge, New Philharmonia Orchestra
With the Ambrosian Light Opera Chorus
Arias and arrangements from works by Massenet, Offenbach, Johann Strauss the Younger, Zeller, Millöcker, Heuberger, Lehár, Fall, Oscar Straus, Romberg, Kern, Friml, Herbert, et. al.
Decca Eloquence/Klassik Center Kassel 480 4727 (2 CDs)
This recording was made in 1966, when La Stupenda was at the height of her career, and there is much to enjoy among selections that range from Massenet’s Chérubin and Offenbach’s La Périchole through classical and post-classical Viennese operetta and on to musicals such as Romberg’s The Student Prince and Kern’s Showboat. For those pieces sung in German, the soprano’s pronunciation is clear and idiomatic, and in general, her interpretations of all this material evinces stylistic awareness and a genuine enthusiasm. She delivers the trills and ornamentation when appropriate, but one never gets the impression that this is a great operatic diva allowing herself to indulge in “light” music. Richard Bonynge was certainly not unfamiliar with operetta, and his presence of the podium of the New Philharmonia Orchestra is further guarantee of an authentic performance.

- Anna Prohaska: “Serpent and Fire”
Conductor/orchestra: Giovanni Antonini, Il Giardino Armonico
Selections from operas by Handel, Purcell, Cavalli, Hasse. Graupner, Sartorio, Locke, and da Castrovillari
Alpha 250 (1 CD)
The soprano’s new recital album dedicated to operatic treatments of the historic Queens Cleopatra and Dido gets an emphatic thumbs-up from this reviewer as well as the critic at Das Opernglas. Prohaska has selected an appealing mixture of arias from well-known and less familiar works – Daniele da Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra and Christoph Graupner’s Dido, Königin von Carthago among the latter. The dedication and interpretive care with which she, conductor Giovanni Antonini, and the ensemble Il Giardino Armonico approach these pieces are impressive.

- Christina Landshamer: Lieder by Ullmann and Schumann
With Gerold Huber (pianist)
Oehms Classics OC 1848 (1 CD)
There is critical consensus between the magazines’ reviewers in the case of Munich soprano Christina Landshamer’s first Lied recording, too. She has paired selected songs by Schumann with two largely unfamiliar cycles by Viktor Ullmann, the latter composed in 1940-41 and dealing with the “phenomenon” of love in all its complexity, including the most painful aspect, death. Both cycles view this experience from a woman’s perspective, specifically those of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (in Rilke’s translation) and Louise Labé. Landshamer fills all of these pieces with lyrical expressivity, and together with pianist Gerold Huber, gives an impassioned account of the songs.

- Brahms: Four Serious Songs
Matthias Goerne (baritone), Christoph Eschenbach (pianist)
Also includes Lieder und Gesänge, op. 32; Lieder nach Gedichte von Heinrich Heine, op. 85 and op. 96
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902174 (1 CD)
This first recording of Brahms songs by the noted Lied interpreter Matthias Goerne is an impressive one, especially since his full, warm baritone is ideally suited to this music. He traverses a wide range of the composer’s Lied repertoire, from the dark yet touchingly vulnerable Lieder und Gesänge (usually rendered in English as Nine Songs, but might also be translated as Songs and Melodies) based on poems by August von Platen and Georg Friedrich Daumer, to the quiet, moving retrospection of the five songs set to Heine’s verses (op. 85 and op. 96), and the “granite” centerpiece of the disc, the Four Serious Songs (op. 121), which the reviewer likens to the German Requiem in Lied format, with its weighty Biblical texts in a “musical asceticism.” Goerne sings this material with great power and intensity, but also with tenderness and sensitivity. He receives wonderful support from his regular accompanist, Christoph Eschenbach, and their long experience performing together shows.

- Efa Hoffmann: “Meine Lieder: Waldeinsamkeit”
With Edward Rushton (pianist)
Includes Schumann’s Liedkreis, op. 39, and Brahms’ songs and folksongs
Audiomax/Daubringhaus & Grimm 7031958-2 (1 CD)
A soprano educated in Stuttgart and currently living in Berlin, Efa Hoffmann has been flying under the radar, so to speak (with the exception of some unconventional YouTube videos). A Lied specialist, she is primarily known for special staged versions of song recitals that she creates. In this recording of Schumann’s Liedkreis (op. 39) and selected Brahms songs with texts that have a Romantic literary theme (as suggested by the title’s reference to sylvan solitude), she sings with engagement and textual clarity, phrases well, and receives “congenial” support from pianist Edward Rushton. The reviewer finds this to be a “fine, sensitively shaped album” worth discovering.

- Schubert: Die Winterreise
Hermann Prey (baritone), Helmut Deutsch (pianist)
SWR Music SWR19012 (1 CD)
This recording by Southwest German Radio comes from a 1987 concert in Schwetzingen, where the now-acclaimed Lied accompanist Helmut Deutsch was “on trial” as Hermann Prey’s keyboard partner – and passes the test with flying colors. The baritone, 58 years old at the time of the recital, retains his characteristic robust, colorful sound. The reviewer observes that a Beckmesser might occasionally nitpick about intonation and a certain “dragging” of notes (in fact, this is one of the slower-paced recordings of Die Winterreise). However, he (the reviewer) discounts criticism that Prey took an eclectic approach to expression, borrowing proven interpretations and vocal conventions. In “Das Wirtshaus,” the wounded feelings which the baritone relates do not in any way come across as artificial sentimentality and are genuinely moving. Prey doesn’t begin the following song, “Mut,” with theatrical rebelliousness, but sounds distant, resigned, even sarcastic.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Meyerbeer: Emma di Resburgo
Conductor: Andreas Stoehr
Cast: Simone Kermes, Vivica Genaux, Thomas Walker, Manfred Hemm, Martin Vanberg, Lena Belkina
Newplay Entertainment NE003 (2 CDs)
One of Meyerbeer’s early operas in the Italian style, Emma di Resburgo (Emma of Roxburgh) is a pleasure to listen to, even in the abridged version of this live recording of a concert performance in Vienna. Stylistically, Meyerbeer’s writing is closer to Bellini’s La Straniera than his own later French operas, but he still puts his individual stamp on the form. This opera is convincingly interpreted by Andreas Stoehr on the podium of the ensemble Orchestra Moderntimes 1800, playing what the reviewer refers to as “so-called historical instruments,” though some recitatives sound rushed and are accompanied by harpsichord, which the reviewer also seems to find questionable. The soloists are an uneven group, headed by Simone Kermes and Vivica Genaux as the married couple Emma and Edemondo, who are driven from their Scottish castle. Kermes is superb, though her mezza voce is marked by more intake of breath than is beneficial for her intonation. Genaux brings a strikingly virile timbre to the breeches role of Edemondo, but her mezzo colleague Lena Belkina “lisps” like Cherubino as Etelia. Thomas Walker (Norcesto) and Manfred Hemm (Olfredo) don’t have an easy time of it with their ornamentation, Hemm in particular lacking the lightness that is indispensable in this repertoire. A more serious problem is the absence of a unified approach to the colorful embellishments by the singers, with each individual following his or her own ideas. The only real consensus comes in the (mistaken) belief that, aside from a few appoggiaturas, one must sing precisely those notes contained in the score. The reviewer observes that adequate rehearsal time and acceptable packaging are things apparently only to be expected from labels such as Opera Rara or Palazzetto Bru Zane with access to generous donors. The enclosed six-page booklet is printed exclusively in English and contains only track listings, artist biographies, and a brief plot synopsis – no libretto, and no explanation for the choice of a slightly cut version. Still, the reviewer finds the opera appealing enough to make this worthwhile listening.

Martinů: Julietta (sung in German translation)
Conductor: Sebastian Weigle
Cast: Kurt Streit, Juanita Lascarro, Beau Gibson, Boris Grappe, Nina Tarandek, Andreas Bauer, Magnús Baldvinsson, Marta Herman, Maria Pantiukhova, Judith Nagyová, Michael McCown
Oehms Classics OC 966 (2 CDs)
My assumption that the live recording of this opera from the 2002 Bregenz Festival (which draws an international audience) would be sung in the original French turned out to be incorrect. Like this new version from the Frankfurt Opera, it’s performed in German translation, so that anyone wanting a recording with the composer’s original French libretto is out of luck. On top of that, many members of Frankfurt’s international cast also display a clumsy “Sprechdeutsch” in their handling of the text, making a truly idiomatic interpretation of this stylistically eclectic work difficult. Nonetheless, there is some excellent, highly-motivated music making here. The Frankfurt Opera and Museum Orchestra is in peak form, with Sebastian Weigle leading an exemplary account of this work’s “magical symbolism” as the “purest expression” of textbook psychoanalysis. There is an equally superb performance from tenor Kurt Streit as the central figure of Michel, and soprano Juanita Lascarro portrays Julietta as an “exotic chimera,” though her lack of textual clarity gives the character an unappealing blurriness.

- Ziehrer: Die Landstreicher (The Vagabonds)
Conductor: Helmuth Froschauer
Cast: Thomas Dewald, Maria Leyer, Daniel Behle, Karl Fäth, Anneli Pfeffer, Boris Leisenheimer. Dominik Wortig, Caroline Stein, Kay Stiefermann, Espen Fegran, Arndt Schumacher
Capriccio C5271 (1 CD)
Carl Michael Ziehrer’s waltzes, polkas, and other pieces have been staples at the Vienna Philharmonic’s annual New Year’s concert for many years, and his operettas enjoyed great popularity around the turn of the 20th century before disappearing from the repertoire. Only Die Landstreicher occasionally resurfaces, and then usually in some reworked arrangement. This recording of a 2008 performance by the West German Radio is faithful to the original, but unfortunately contains only the musical numbers and none of the dialogue. That doesn’t make it easy for the listener to follow the complicated plot in which the unemployed comedians August and Berta Fliederbusch (literally “lilac bush”) become involved in theft and fraud and pose as magicians before finally providing for the happy ending. Ziehrer’s musical imagination is almost inexhaustible, and the two most popular numbers, “Sei gepriesen, du lauschige Nacht” and “Das ist der Zauber der Montur,” are quite catchy. Led by Helmuth Froschauer, the West German Radio Broadcasting Center Orchestra plays with plenty of dash, and while there are no standouts among the cast members (even Daniel Behle’s Roland remains inconspicuous), they form a strong ensemble.

- Johannette Zomer: “Laudate! Works by Antonio Vivaldi”
With the Tulipa Consort
Channel Classics CCS 38216
Though she also sings lyric roles such as Pamina, the Dutch soprano is better known for her interpretation of Baroque music, having performed a number of works with Philippe Herreweghe and recorded all of Bach’s cantatas with Ton Koopman. This album, on which she is joined by the Tulipa Consort, an HIP ensemble she founded in 2013, includes two of Vivaldi’s solo motets, three arias from his oratorio Juditha triumphans, a cantata-like setting of the psalm “Laudate pueri” in C-Minor, and two instrumental symphonies. Though she has been performing for close to 20 years, Zomer’s voice has retained its soft glow. However, she is less convincing in the pieces with high-lying passages (and there are many of them) than in those with a lower tessitura, and in fact is remarkably successful in Judith’s two contralto arias. While expressive details are carefully worked out in the solemn selections, coloratura tends to be unclear in rapid sections and trills are pretty much fudged. On the plus side, the Tulipa Consort proves itself a stylistically assured ensemble and produces a wealth of tonal colors.

SAVE YOUR MONEY

- Lehár: Giuditta
Conductor: Ulf Schirmer
Cast: Christiane Libor, Nikolai Schukoff, Laura Scherwitzl, Ralf Simon, Mauro Peter, Christian Eberl, Rupert Bergmann
cpo 777 749-2 (2 CDs)
Composed in 1934, Giuditta is a curious combination of opera and operetta that is generally regarded as the final work in the golden age of Viennese operetta. The plot resembles that of Carmen, with Captain Octavio falling in love with the dancer Giuditta and becoming a deserter in consequence. In this case, the affair ends with a tearful renunciation rather than a fatal stabbing. Musically, Lehár is in his element, with one hit tune following another. Regrettably, Ulf Schirmer and the Munich Radio Orchestra turn in a noticeably lackluster account of the score. Nikolai Schukoff’s strapping Octavio is given occasional Heldentenor accents, while the Giuditta of Christiane Libor (a jugendlich dramatische soprano who counts Isolde and Brünnhilde among her roles) sounds like a respectable opera diva, but hardly like a demimondaine.

- Anne Schwanewilms: “Schöne Welt”
With Charles Spencer (pianist)
Songs by Schubert, Schreker, and Korngold
Capriccio C5233 (1 CD)
A selection of Schubert Lieder are at the heart of this new CD by the German soprano and include some of the most popular – and most recorded – pieces. This invites comparison, and it usually isn’t flattering. Nuance is critical in Lied interpretation, but Schwanewilms’ emphasis on beautiful tone and rounded phrasing serves as a constant reminder that she is more at home as an opera singer. The small vocal blemishes – some untidy intonation, tight vocal production, strained high notes, and mannered vowel discoloration – are less problematic than her none-too-sensitive, overemphatic declamation of the text. Many of the Schubert songs are of a contemplative, melancholy nature that doesn’t suit her inclination for sentimentality. The less musically demanding Schreker and Korngold Lieder come off better, and she does handle Schubert’s setting of Ellen’s Songs from Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake quite well. She shows great imagination in her account of the operatic “Raste Krieger!” and the lullaby-like “Jäger, ruhe von der Jagd,” and finds the appropriate relaxed approach to the famous “Ave, Maria.” On balance, however, the reviewer’s unfavorable comments appear to outnumber the positive ones.

MAuer
September 6th, 2016, 12:53 PM
From the September issue of Das Opernglas (http://www.opernglas.de/)

RECOMMENDED

- Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Conductor: Rudolf Kempe
Cast: Ferdinand Frantz, Tiana Lemnitz, Bernd Aldenhoff, Heinrich Pflanzl, Kurt Böhme, Gerhard Unger, Emilie Walter-Sacks, et. al.
Hänssler/Profil PH 13006 (4 CDs)
This recording seems to be a perfect illustration of the old Latin proverb that there’s no arguing with taste (De gustibus non est disputandum). While the reviewer from Opernwelt had little good to say about it, this critic thinks it’s wonderful. If the former thought Tiana Lemnitz (Eva) was clearly past her prime by 1951, when the studio recording was made, the reviewer from Das Opernglas lauds her sensitivity and “enchanting” intonation. There are kudos for Ferdinand Frantz as a powerful, finely shaded Hans Sachs of “high quality;” Kurt Böhme as a “magnificent” Pogner; and Gerhard Unger as a characterful David, as well as a couple of future stars in the small roles of the Mastersingers (Theo Adam’s Hermann Ortel and Gerhard Stolze’s Augustin Moser). Heinrich Pflanzl is a “solemn” Beckmesser and Bernd Aldenhoff a “melodramatic” Walther von Stolzing. On the podium of the Dresden Staatskapelle, Rudolf Kempe opts for a leisurely pace that makes the most of Wagner’s beautiful phrasing, and some particularly fine passages reflect his affinity for this work even half a decade before his landmark 1956 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic. There is a good balance between orchestra and soloists, making this set a good selection for both the connoisseur and the newbie.
So there you have it. This reviewer recommends the recording; his counterpart at Opernwelt wouldn’t bother with it. And YouTube is of no help – one can listen to Frantz’s Sachs, but on Kempe’s later recording; the clips of Aldenhoff singing Walther’s arias are no longer available; and the only examples of Lemnitz’ Eva come from a 1938 performance. This is definitely a case of Let the buyer beware (to borrow another Latin saying).

- Astor Piazzolla: María de Buenos Aires
Conductor: David Nuñez
Cast: Delphine Gardin, Gustavo Beytelmann, Roberto Cordova
Neos 10807-08 (2 CDs)
This 2006 recording of Piazzolla’s “tango operita” that had its world premiere in 1968 was made at California’s Igloo Studios and has finally been released on the commercial market. The nine-member ensemble Musiques Nouvelles (including violin, viola, cello, bass, flute, piano, drums, guitar, and bandoneon) is conducted by the violinist, David Nuñez, and their “passionate, atmospheric” reading successfully shapes a stylistic whole out of Piazzolla’s mixture of tango versions and “serious” musical forms such as the toccata and fugue. In Horacio Ferrer’s libretto, María is a girl from Buenos Aires’ suburban slums who travels to the city center and is drawn into the sex trade (in a sense, she is seduced by the tango). Her life becomes empty and meaningless, and she senses her approaching death before it is determined by a group of madams and thiefs who proclaim that her heart is dead. After her demise, she is condemned to a hell that turns out to be the city itself, where she walks the streets as a shadow. Somehow, death has enabled her to regain her virginity and she becomes pregnant by the Word of a character known as the Goblin Poet. Yes, there are definite parallels to the New Testament, including three construction worker Magi who witness the birth. However, this offspring is a girl, the child María, who may be the title figure herself. The versatile jazz singer Delphine Gardin, who has made a name for herself in Belgium’s pop-rock scene, is cast as María in this recording, and she puts her individual stamp on the role with her “vulgar, rough-sounding” voice. El Duende (The Spirit) is sung by the Argentinian Gustavo Beytelmann, with the Chilean Roberto Cordova taking on multiple characters; both of their voices fit ideally into this world of smoky bars populated by beggars, the homeless, pimps, and crooks.

- Zdenék Fibich: Die Braut von Messina (The Bride of Messina)
Conductor: Kimbo Ishii
Cast: Lucia Crevoni, Thomas Florio, Richard Samek, Noa Danon, Martin-Jan Nijhof, Manfred Wulfert, et. al.
cpo 7 61203 79812 4 (2 CDs)
Though less well known than his contemporaries Dvořák and Smetana, Fibich was one of the most important Czech composers in the final decades of the 19th century. This tragic opera, with a Czech libretto by Otakar Hostinký based on Schiller’s play of the same title, has a clear Wagnerian influence in the partitur. The plot deals with the family of Donna Isabella, the reigning Princess of Messina, who sent her daughter Béatrice off to a convent after the late Prince had a dream foretelling that the girl would be the cause of her brothers’ deaths. In fact, the two young men – Don Manuel and Don César – don’t even know they have a sister, but spend their time constantly feuding. Donna Isabella tries to make peace, and the brothers finally discuss plans to bring their prospective brides home to meet Mama. Naturally, both of them have fallen in love with Béatrice, and she is the prospective bride. Don Manuel learns the truth, but is killed by the jealous Don César before he can enlighten him. When César finally does discover that Béatrice is his sister, he commits suicide.
This live recording of a performance at the Magdeburg Theater was made in March, 2015, and is certainly a worthy addition to the discography despite the fact that Fibich’s score really isn’t all that interesting. The music is through-composed, but the style of Leitmotif is different from Wagner’s so that one seldom hears extended melodic arcs. The cast is excellent, and the Magdeburg Philharmonic led by Kimbo Ishii provides solid accompaniment for the soloists. The third act Funeral March (which sounds more like a tone poem) has symphonic fullness and a wealth of colors, even if now and then entrances could be a touch more precise. Lucia Crevoni sings Donna Isabella with a rich mezzo that’s balanced throughout its range, while the roles of the two sons are adequately filled by Thomas Florio (Don Manuel) and Richard Samek (Don César). Florio possesses a sonorous, cultivated baritone, while Samek displays a light lyric tenor. The titular bride, Noa Danon, has a very dark soprano that’s open at the top and suggests a future Elsa or Elisabeth. The smaller roles of Cayetan and Bohemund are respectably filled by bass Martin-Jan Nijhof and tenor Manfred Wulfert. The chorus plays a substantial part in the drama, and the many ensemble scenes are wonderfully vivid and colorful.

- Anna Netrebko: “Verismo”
Conductor/orchestra: Sir Antonio Pappano, Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome
With Yusif Eyvazov (tenor)
Selections from operas by Puccini, Giordano, Leoncavallo, Cilea, Catalani, Ponchielli, and Boito
Deutsche Grammophon 479 5015 (1 CD)
This newest album from La Bellissima is a “master performance,” according to the reviewer. Her voice now has a remarkable volume and high notes of fabulous dramatic power, both indispensable qualities in this repertoire, and it is paired with an extraordinary expressivity of the finest dynamic gradations and a wealth of colorful nuances. Her treatment of these pieces makes clear how much the verismo composers were influenced by the bel canto tradition. The Russian diva has first-class partners in Sir Tony and his forces from the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. He “paints with a fine brush,” as the reviewer observes, and his approach to this music reveals the connections between Italian verismo and French Impressionism. Most of the selections on this disc are from familiar works, almost half of them by Puccini. Her interpretations of Madama Butterfly’s “Un bel di” and Tosca’s “Vissi d’Arte” make one wish for more, and if her voice now sounds a bit mature for Liù, she takes on Turandot with fearless high attacks. (She hasn’t sung the Ice Princess onstage yet, but this is certainly possible at some future time if her voice continues its recent rapid development.) The one role among these Puccini heroines that she has performed is Manon Lescaut, and she’s heard here in both the second act aria and the complete final act, where she’s capably assisted by husband Yusif Eyvazov as Des Grieux. In the selections from Adriana Lecouvreur, Andrea Chénier, I Pagliacci, La Wally, Mefistofele, and La Giocanda, all of her considerable virtues are in evidence – the dark, glowing timbre, absolute technical security, and wide-ranging expressive palette.

- Pretty Yende: “A Journey”
Conductor/orchestra: Marco Armiliato, RAI National Symphony Orchestra
With Kate Aldrich (mezzo), Gianluca Buratto (bass), and Nicola Alaimo (baritone)
Selections from operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Gounod, and Delibes
Sony Classical 88985321692 (1 CD)
For her first recital album, the South African soprano has chosen arias that reflect important milestones in her career: the duet from Lakmé that inspired her to become an opera singer; “Amour ranime mon courage” from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, which she performed at the 2009 International Belvedere singing competition in which she took home first prize in every category; Beatrice di Tenda’s “Ah, la pena” which she sang at Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition in 2011, where she again received multiple first prizes; the heroine’s first act aria from Lucia di Lammermoor, the role in which she returned home for a production of Donizetti’s work at the Cape Town Opera; the Comtesse Adèle’s “Vous que l’on dit” from her 2013 Met appearances with Juan Diego Flórez in Rossini’s Le Comte d’Ory; and Rosina’s “Una voce poco fa,” marking her debut at the Opéra National de Paris earlier this year. She possesses a striking voice of extraordinary quality (including a nearly three-octave range that allows her to sing Rosina’s aria in the original mezzo setting) allied with considerable acting talent and personal charisma – all of which are in evidence in many of the selections here. She fires off impressive coloratura pyrotechnics as Lucia, Adèle, and Elvira (I Puritani), but also displays a round, full midrange suited to the lyric repertoire. The reviewer has only one tiny quibble with this otherwise excellent CD, and it deals with those pieces from roles she has not yet sung onstage – Juliette, Elvira, and Beatrice. Here, her characterizations tend to skate on the surface, and in spite of good dynamic gradations and treatment of the text, one wishes for more in the way of vocal colors and a deeper psychological probing of the figures’ emotions. She receives superlative accompaniment from the RAI National Symphony Orchestra under the competent leadership of Marco Armiliato. Unusual for a disc of opera arias, these selections are performed without cuts, and Ms. Yende is joined in some of them by colleagues Kate Aldrich, Gianluca Buratto, and Nicola Alaimo.

- Pavol Breslik: “Mozart”
Opera and concert arias
Conductor/orchestra: Patrick Lange, Munich Radio Orchestra
Orfeo C 889161 A (1 CD)
The 36 year-old native of Bratislava has established himself as one of the world’s leading Mozart tenors, and this new CD may soon become a reference recording. His beautiful timbre with its light metallic quality combines youthful impetuosity with the most delicate emotional expression, and is also capable of heroic emphasis – qualities well suited to the noble-minded young lovers he often portrays. He dispatches Belmonte’s extremely difficult “Ich baue ganz auf deine Stärke” with bravura; does full justice to Don Ottavio with a gentle “Dalla sua pace” and a virile, spirited “Il mio tesoro;” and brings heartfelt warmth to Tamino. Included at the end of the disc is the 1783 concert aria, “Misero! O sogno – Aura che intorno spiri,” that shows clear influence of Gluck and the opera seria. Decisively contributing to this excellent recording is the Munich Radio Orchestra under the circumspect, sensitive conducting of Patrick Lange.

- Theo Adam: Edition zum 90. Geburtstag
Conductors/orchestras: Otmar Suitner, Staatskapelle Berlin; Martin Flämig, Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra; Rudolf Mauersberger, Erhard Mauersberger, and Kurt Thomas, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra; Hans-Joachim Rotzsch, Neue Bachische Collegium Musicum
Arias from operas by Wagner, Strauss, and Mozart; sacred arias by J. S. Bach
Berlin Classics 0300824 (3 CDs)
On 1 August, the noted bass-baritone celebrated his 90th birthday, and to mark the event, Berlin Classics – which holds all of the classical recording archives from the former East Germany – released this box set of excerpts from his substantial discography. Most of them were made in the 1960s, the first of two decades in which the Dresden native was among the stalwarts of the Bayreuth Festival, and not surprisingly, Wagner is well represented on these discs. In selections from Der fliegende Holländer, Die Walküre, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal, he is accompanied by the Berlin Staatskapelle under the baton of Otmar Suitner. However, it was as Mozart’s Figaro that Adam made his international breakthrough in Frankfurt in 1956 (the bicentennial of the composer’s birth), and Figaro’s “Se vuol ballare” and “Aprite un po quegli occhi” are included in this set. (The reviewer references the Italian titles, but I suspect they may have actually been sung in German translation, as was typical at the time.) He is also heard in excerpts from Don Giovanni, Zaide, and Die Zauberflöte, and his portrayals of characters in Strauss operas are documented by selections from Der Rosenkavalier and Die Frau ohne Schatten. In addition to his opera appearances, Adam was in demand as a concert and oratorio singer, and this set includes a variety of arias from Johann Sebastian Bach’s sacred cantatas, Christmas Oratorio, and St. Matthew Passion. He’s joined in the cantatas by sopranos Agnes Giebel and Elisabeth Grümmer, and in the Passion by Peter Schreier’s Evangelist. The Heldenbariton was accompanied in these recordings by various conductors and orchestras, including Martin Flämig and the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra; the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra with Rudolf Mauersberger, Erhard Mauersberger, or Kurt Thomas on the podium; and Hans-Joachim Rotzsch leading the Neue Bachische Collegium Musicum. Even though the interpretive approach to 18th century music has changed over the past 40-50 years, this is still the singing of a unique, great Bach stylist.

- Christiane Karg: “Portrait – Arien und Lieder”
With conductor Jonathan Cohen and orchestra Arcangelo; pianists Burkhard Kehring and Malcolm Martineau
Arias from operas by Gluck, Grétry, and Mozart; concert aria by Mendelssohn; Lieder by Strauss, Schreker, Schubert, Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, and Wolf
Berlin Classics Portrait 03007888BC (1 CD)
Christiane Karg is another artist as much at home on the concert podium as she is on the operatic stage. She says she lets her voice tell her what she can and cannot sing, and as the reviewer notes, it has proven a good advisor. Mozart and Strauss are two of the mainstays in her repertoire, and both are represented here: the former with the charming “Amoretti” from La finta semplice, and the latter with a selection of his songs. There is also a rarity in the aria “Il va venir! Perdonne, ô mon Juge” from André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry’s 1770 opera Silvain that makes one want to become better acquainted with this work. She is sensitively accompanied in the arias by Jonathan Cohen and his orchestra Arcangelo, while her keyboard partners in the Lieder are Burkhard Kehring and Malcolm Martineau.

- Katja Stuber: “Lachen und Weinen” (Laughing and Weeping)
With Boris Kusnezov (pianist)
Songs by Schubert, Hindemith, Georg Trakl, and Kurt Weill
Conrec 005 (1 CD)
This imaginative collection of songs dealing with love in all its varied aspects – new love, desire, infidelity and disappointment, melancholy recollections – is a welcome addition to the Lied discography. With her attractive light soprano, Katja Stuber interprets this material in an intimate, pointed manner. The album title is borrowed from Schubert’s setting of one of Friedrich Rückert’s poems, and together with five of this composer’s other Lieder, view the topic from the most different perspectives. Among the other gems here are the eight songs from Hindemith’s Opus 18, which lead the listener into the realms of the subconscious and absurd (and which, the reviewer cautions, require a healthy portion of imagination); Georg Trakl’s “Trompeten” with its “extraordinary compactness” that suggests “a poetic state of uncertainty;” and songs composed by Kurt Weill during his sojourn in Paris that are so evocative they could be mistaken for genuine French chansons. The soprano is partnered by pianist Boris Kusnezov, who significantly contributes to the high quality of this recording.

- “Portrait -- Maureen Forrester, 1955-1963”
With Michael Raucheisen, Hertha Klust, and Felix Schröder (pianists)
Songs by Schubert, Schumann, Mahler, Wagner, Loewe, Brahms, Britten, Barber, and Poulenc; sacred songs by C. P. E. Bach and J. W. Franck; excerpts from Haydn’s cantata Arianna a Naxos
Audite 21.437 (3 CDs)
As the title implies, this box set includes recordings made by the noted Canadian contralto between 1955 and 1963 for RIAS in Berlin, and encompasses a wide stylistic range among the offerings. A favorite of Bruno Walter, with whom she performed many of Mahler’s works, Forrester had a rich, bronze-tinted timbre ideal for that composer’s Rückert Lieder as well as Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, and both of those cycles are included here. There are also some surprises, such as Wagner’s and Carl Loewe’s settings of “Gretchen am Spinnrad” rather than Schubert’s more familiar version – though an entire disc is devoted to Schubert and Schumann. The third CD is reserved for what were then modern composers, with Britten’s “Charm of Lullabies,” Barber’s “Mélodies Passagères,” and Poulenc’s “La Fraîcheur et le Feu” and “Le Travail du Paintre.” Forrester’s voice “radiates warmth and velvety poetry,” and occasionally reminds one of the rich, full tones of an organ.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Conductor: Jérémie Rhorer
Cast: Jane Archibald, Norman Reinhardt, Rachele Gilmore, David Portillo, Mischa Schelomianski, Christoph Quest
Alpha 242 (2 CDs)
This live recording from the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées is in many respects exemplary, but unfortunately lacks the sort of distinctive profile that would make it stand out in a discography full of outstanding interpretations. Jane Archibald’s Konstanze is in the tradition of light coloratura sopranos, and she brings the necessary virtuosity to the role (exemplified by her rendition of “Martern aller Arten”). Her attractive timbre is captured well by the recording technology, which gives it a sort of creamy quality. Norman Reinhardt is a virile Belmonte whose tenor has a striking timbre and appealing head register; however, his coloratura isn’t the best, with intonation that’s often blurry. David Portillo’s Pedrillo is thankfully not too heavy on the clowning and impresses with a pleasantly rounded tone and fine dynamic gradations. He sings the Romance “In Mohrenland gefangen” with great lyrical refinement. He’s joined by Rachele Gilmore’s excellent (if a tad snippy) Blonde, with a beautiful soprano that has a polished sheen to it. Mischa Schelomianski doesn’t give much shaping to Osmin, and while his low register is much too thin, he possesses an attractive midrange. Probably the most lasting impression is made by conductor Jérémie Rhorer and the orchestra Le Cercle de l’Harmonie. His tempos are noticeably brisk but never sound rushed, and his musicians play with such flexibility and suppleness that the fine details in Mozart’s score are never lost. In accompanying the soloists, Rhorer uses ritardandi in a manner that makes the music seem to breathe, while the orchestra’s warm, magnificent tonal colors let instrumental passages shimmer and glow. The reviewer sums up his comments by calling this “a recording to enjoy” – which would sound like a recommendation where it not for his earlier remarks about the lack of a distinctive character.

- Johann Strauss the Younger: Der Zigeunerbaron
Conductor: Lawrence Foster
Cast: Nikolai Schukoff, Claudia Barainsky, Jochen Schmeckenbecher, Markus Brück, Kathuna Mikaberidze, Heinz Zednik, Jasmina Sakr, Paul Kaufmann, Renate Pitscheider
Pentatone PIC 5186 482 (2 CDs)
This magazine’s reviewer is not as impressed as Opernwelt’s critic by this live recording of a 2015 concert performance in Hannover. The long stretches of dialogue in operetta can prove problematic in a concert setting, and conveying the situation comedy that is typical of this genre is difficult in the absence of a staging’s supporting visual elements. The decision was made here to deal with the first challenge by “radically” shortening the dialogue, but there is really no solution for the second dilemma. Conductor Lawrence Foster’s approach to the work is deliberately close to opera, with ensemble scenes carefully developed and attention paid to details in the orchestration. But his reading lacks verve and esprit, an impression reinforced by his choice of measured tempos. The soloists deliver their dialogue in a very by-the-book fashion that at least makes one grateful for the severe editing. The lone exception is the veteran character tenor Heinz Zednik with his pointed handling of Count Carnero’s text. Where the singing is concerned, no one really makes any mistakes, though the lack of experience in operetta is evident. Nikolai Schukoff brings a secure tenor with powerful high notes to Sandor Barinkay, but his voice lacks flexibility and luster. Claudia Barainsky has no difficulties with the role of Saffi, though she sounds a bit mature for a young woman. There are convincing performances from Khatuna Mikaberidze with her rich mezzo as the gypsy Czipra and soprano Jasmina Sakr as a lively Arsena, while baritone Markus Brück’s marvelous account of Count Homonay’s recruiting song makes one wish this character had more to sing. Jochen Schmeckenbecher is a disappointing Zsupán, lacking a full, rich bass and employing a rather faked-sounding Hungarian accent. The reviewer finds it strange – though listeners may be pleased – that nearly all noise from the audience has been “cleaned” from the recording. Only in one of the dialogue passages does one detect what might be quiet laughter. (Or maybe, he suggests, the audience just didn’t find this performance very amusing.)

- Joanna Woś: “Poniatowski – Opera arias”
Conductor/orchestra: Bassem Akiki, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
SMP 201507 (1 CD)
A great nephew of Poland’s last King, whose reign ended in 1795 when the country was divided among themselves by Prussia, Austria, and Russia, Prince Józef Michal Poniatowski was born in Rome (1816), and after a brief stint as a tenor, turned his musical endeavors to composing. He worked primarily in Italy and France, the latter under the patronage of Napoleon III, and finally London, where he wrote his final opera, Gelmira, as a vehicle for Adelina Patti. His music was admired by no less than Rossini when the latter was living in Paris, so a recording of selections from seven of his operas, from the early Don Desiderio (1840) to the later Pierre de Medicis (1860) and L’Aventurier (1865), and concluding with the aforementioned Gelmira (1872), would certainly seem to be a worthwhile undertaking – and to a certain extent, it is. However, when an unknown composer is to be reintroduced to modern audiences, he (or she) needs an excellent singer as advocate – a notable example is Cecilia Bartoli’s efforts to revive the works of Agostino Steffani. Unfortunately, soprano Joanna Woś is no Bartoli. Her voice is sharp and marred by an unpleasant tremolo, so that she never does full justice to Poniatowski’s tender melodies and on the whole pleasing music. It’s regrettable, as one suspects a staged revival of one of his operas could be very enjoyable.

Soave_Fanciulla
September 7th, 2016, 07:46 AM
For anyone who is interested, Piazolla's María de Buenos Aires is currently available free on Arte: clicky (http://concert.arte.tv/fr/maria-de-buenos-aires-dastor-piazzolla-larmel-opera-festival).

MAuer
September 9th, 2016, 11:29 AM
Even though it’s a double issue (September-October), there is a surprisingly limited number of recording reviews in the latest Opernwelt (http://www.opernwelt.de/). And all of them are recommended.

- Rihm: Goethe-Lieder
Hans Christoph Begemann (baritone), Thomas Seyboldt (pianist)
bastille musique bm002 (1 CD)
A number of well-known composers, Schubert, Beethoven, and Wolf among them, have set Goethe’s texts to music. They have been joined by Wolfgang Rihm, whose entire repertoire of Lieder with verses by Goethe and Schiller, composed between 2004 and 2014, was performed at the 2014 Salzburg Festival by baritone Christian Gerhaher and pianist Gerold Huber. This new recording, which is Opernwelt’s CD of the Month, features baritone Hans Christoph Begemann and accompanist Thomas Seyboldt, who need fear no comparisons with their stellar predecessors. Both artists are longtime acquaintances of the composer and have worked intensively with him on this material (detailed in the accompanying booklet). Rihm has often been criticized for his “stylistic volubility,” as the reviewer characterizes it, and in these songs, he does in fact demonstrate an amazing familiarity with the language of tradition. However, there is more to these pieces than a cheeky Hugo Wolf-like cheerfulness; if one listens carefully, a dual perspective becomes perceptible in the self-irony of Rihm’s musical “gestures.” Herren Begemann and Seyboldt have the necessary aural sensitivity for it, and this disc provides a fascinating glimpse into the composer’s “workshop.” The accompanying booklet, including photographs, is also of a quality to raise this recording well above the average.

- Handel: Saul
Conductor: Ivor Bolton
Director: Barrie Kosky
Cast: Christopher Purves, Iestyn Davies, Lucy Crowe, Sophie Bevan, Paul Appleby, Benjamin Hulett, John Graham Hall, et. al.
Opus Arte OA 1216 D (1 DVD)
Though Saul is an oratorio and not an opera, the Old Testament story of the King who falls prey to madness, is abandoned by God, and killed in battle has enough drama to make it suitable for a staged production. In this performance from last year’s Glyndebourne Festival, director Barrie Kosky approaches Saul’s fate in a manner that calls to mind Shakespeare’s King Lear. Luckily, the Regisseur has two outstanding singer-actors in baritone Christopher Purves and countertenor Iestyn Davies, who memorably bring his vision of the Biblical monarch’s downfall to life. In the title role, Mr. Purves makes Saul’s descent into madness believable, and if a bit of his coloratura slips out of control, it’s easy to overlook in consideration of his “phenomenal” portrayal. Mr. Davies is no less impressive as the youthful David, traumatized by his battle with Goliath (the giant’s severed head dominates events in the first act), whose unsought popularity with the citizenry provokes the King’s jealousy. He’s equally credible as a vulnerable, sexually ambivalent man who doesn’t quite know whether he loves Saul’s son Jonathan or Jonathan’s sister Michal. Mr. Kosky has also come up with a variety of ways to counteract the static tendency of the oratorio format. He pairs the Glyndebourne Chorus with six dancers who perform “choreographic chamber pieces” as accompaniment to the choristers' singing, and uses the colorful onstage action as a foil to those scenes where the visuals have been paired down to the most essential – such as Saul’s encounter with the Witch of Endor, an elderly woman from whose shriveled breasts the King sucks a sort of drug that transforms him into Samuel. The singing of the other cast members is at a very high level, and they receive “perfect” support from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment led by Ivor Bolton, though the conductor shies away from expressive extremes (which the reviewer evidently doesn’t think is such a good thing.)

- Handel: Alcina
Conductor: Andrea Marcon
Director: Katie Mitchell
Cast: Patricia Petibon, Philippe Jaroussky, Anna Prohaska, Katarina Bradic, Anthony Gregory, Krzysztof Baczyk, Elias Mädler, Juliet Alderdice, Jane Thorne
Erato 0190295974367 (2 DVDs)
This production comes from last year’s Aix-en-Provence Festival, and draws critical raves for the performance of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, with Andrea Marcon on the podium, that serves as the “expressive tonal center” of the performance. There are also kudos for Katie Mitchell’s moving, powerful staging that’s aided by camera angles which often bring the soloists up close, allowing the viewer to observe the nuances in their acting. The director uses Alcina’s plot to explore love and power within the context of aging and its effect on women, especially the realization that they are no longer sexually attractive (at least to most young guys). In Chloe Lambert’s sets, a two-level structure is divided into separate rooms on each floor, with the ground level partitioned into a luxurious central chamber with a double bed, small table and chair, and taxidermy display case, and two small, dark side rooms. The roles of Alcina and Morgana are doubled, with Patricia Petibon and Anna Prohaska portraying the sisters as young women (in the 1930s-era central room) and actresses Juliet Alderdice and Jane Thorne representing their elderly versions and occupying the side chambers, where it’s the 1980s or ‘90s. When the octogenarians step into the brightly lighted, posh center space, they are transformed into their younger, attractive selves and are free to indulge their erotic appetites. But then Alcina falls in love with Ruggiero, and suffers a nervous breakdown when she discovers that he wants to leave her. At the loss of her magic powers, she is forced to grasp that she is old, unattractive, and of no interest to any young man. The cast is outstanding, beginning with Ms. Petibon’s richly faceted Alcina and Ms. Prohaska’s Morgana with her combination of vocal discipline and dramatic commitment, praised by the reviewer as a “master performance.” The staging concept places considerable physical demands on Philippe Jaroussky’s Ruggiero, and while he’s excellent, he’s not quite on a par with the ladies as a vocal thespian. Katarina Bradic as the disguised Bradamante makes a strong opponent for the two sorceresses; Anthony Gregory sings Oronte with a pleasing light tenor; and the young bass Krzysztof Baczyk is able to give notable weight to the minor character of Melisso. But it’s the 12 year-old Tölz Choirboy, Elias Mädler, who steals everyone’s heart as the youngster Oberto, who is searching for his vanished father.

- Rossini: Il Viaggio a Reims
Conductor: Antonino Fogliani
Cast: Alessandra Marianelli, Sofia Mchedlishvili, Laura Giordano, Marianna Pizzolato, Bogdan Mihai, Maxim Mironov, Bruno de Simone, Bruno Praticò, Mirco Palazzi, Gezim Myshketa
Naxos 8.660382-84 (3 CDs)
Written as part of celebrations for the coronation of France’s King Charles X, Il Viaggio a Reims premiered at Paris’ Théâtre Italien in June, 1825, but was withdrawn by Rossini after only four performances. He subsequently recycled about half of it for his 1828 French opera, Le Comte Ory, but the Italian original disappeared for over a century and a half before substantial portions of the score began surfacing in European libraries in the late 1970s. A staged production was finally mounted at the 1984 Pesaro Festival with conductor Claudio Abbado and a cast full of leading international stars. Gradually, Il Viaggio a Reims began making its way into opera houses’ season schedules. This live recording comes from the “other” Rossini Festival in Bad Wildbad, where it was part of celebrations for the reopening of the Royal Spa Theater. Unlike previous performances, the one in Bad Wildbad used the complete, unaltered original version minus additions from other composers and with some recently discovered material (such as a final chorus) added. On the whole, the cast is satisfying, with standouts being the tenors Maxim Mironov (Count Libenskof) and Bogdan Mihai (Chevalier Belfiore) as well as the experienced buffo stylists Bruno de Simone (Don Profondo) and Bruno Praticò (Baron Trombonok). Antonino Fogliani leads a lively account of Rossini’s score by the Virtuosi Brunensis.

Soave_Fanciulla
September 9th, 2016, 10:00 PM
SO to make it clear these are the two phenomenal DVDs recommended above- we all know about the Alcina, but the Saul is absolutely riveting and a shining example of how to stage a Handel oratorio.

http://i.prs.to/t_200/erato9029597436.jpg http://i.prs.to/t_200/opusarteoa1216d.jpg

Clayton
September 16th, 2016, 11:43 AM
okay, Saul added to basket

MAuer
October 7th, 2016, 11:39 AM
Here’s the summary of reviews from the October, 2016, issue of Das Opernglas (http://www.opernglas.de/):

RECOMMENDED

- Giordano: Andrea Chénier
Conductor: Sir Antonio Pappano
Director: Sir David McVicar
Cast: Jonas Kaufmann, Eva Maria Westbroek, Željko Lučiċ, Denyce Graves, Roland Wood, Rosalind Plowright, Adrian Clarke, Carlo Bossi, Elena Zilio, Peter Hoare, Peter Coleman-Wright, et. al.
Warner Classics 190295937966 (1 DVD)
This gets an emphatic thumbs-up from the reviewer. A starry cast, led by the powerhouse trio of Jonas Kaufmann (Chénier), Eva Maria Westbroek (Madeleine de Coigny), and Željko Lučiċ (Gérard), has top-drawer partners in Sir Antonio Pappano and the Royal Opera House Orchestra, who maintain an appropriate balance between accompanying the singers and taking the lead. Sir David McVicar’s traditional production is distinguished by a strong Personenführung in which even minor figures are given a distinctive profile (such as the fruit-munching spectators during the Act III trial scene). A combination of forceful imagery and magnificent costumes effectively establishes the time and place of events, and the video’s many close-ups capture the dramatic intensity the soloists bring to their roles. The three protagonists are in splendid voice, and there are notable contributions from Denyce Graves as a vocally and dramatically “unusually present” Bersi, Roland Wood, who lends a dry but powerful baritone to Roucher, and veteran Rosalind Plowright as the Comtesse de Coigny.

- Glinka: Ruslan and Lyudmila
Conductor: Vladimir Jurowski
Director: Dmitri Tcherniakov
Cast: Albina Shagimuratova, Mikhail Petrenko, Charles Workman, Elena Zaremba, Alex Penda, Yuri Minenko, Almas Svilpa, Vladimir Ognovenko, Alexandre Polkovnikov
BelAir Classic BAC 120 (2 DVDs)
Glinka’s fairy tale opera, while it reveals certain significant developments in music history, doesn’t always reach what the reviewer describes as the melodic inspiration of the most popular Russian operas. Nonetheless, this performance from the Bolshoi Theater makes a convincing case for it. In the story, Lyudmila, the daughter of the Grand Prince of Kiev, is engaged to the knight Ruslan, but is abducted during their wedding banquet by henchmen of the villain Tschernomor. Ruslan and two of the bride’s former suitors set of to rescue her, as her father has promised to give her in marriage to the man who frees her (the engagement to Ruslan evidently notwithstanding). Aided by the magician Finn, Ruslan must survive assorted adventures while on his rescue mission. He manages to avoid the temptations of the evil fairy Naina’s palace – she being Finn’s adversary – and after some additional complications, is finally reunited with Lyudmila. At first glance, this production looks so traditional that one may wonder if the listing of Dmitri Tcherniakov as director is a misprint. Rest assured it isn’t; what the viewer sees are modern people in historical garb preparing a wedding feast in a lavish Russian palace. This is a fairy tale told from a contemporary perspective, with Naina’s palace a cross between an atelier and a bordello (definitely more of the latter), and the place where Lyudmila is imprisoned is a cool, white, but very luxe hangout like those of films’ archvillains. Tcherniakov leads the cast members through all of the scenes of Ruslan’s journey with a deft hand, avoiding both typical opera clichés and the annoying Regietheater penchant for keeping everything onstage in constant motion. This also has the advantage of allowing the soloists to concentrate on their music. They are all convincing, even if their performances are not all up to the same level. Most impressive are the sopranos Albina Shagimuratova as Lyudmila and Alex Penda as Gorislava, the lover of one of the former suitors. Shagimuratova has a superbly focused voice of tremendous luminosity and impressive expressivity; she maintains a clear line and capably manages the coloratura, and is captivating in her impassioned portrayal. Penda’s voice sits perfectly and displays a fabulous low register that underscores the impulsivity of her unforced singing. The volume and dark coloring of Elena Zaremba’s mezzo, which she deploys with “flawless suppleness,” makes her Naina an ideal contrast to the uncommon lightness and clarity of Charles Workman’s Finn. The breeches role of Prince Ratmir is assigned here to the striking alto countertenor Yuri Minenko, though the remaining male soloists are more respectable than extraordinary. Mikhail Petrenko brings a virile bass to Ruslan, but the sound is not evenly balanced throughout his range. Almas Svilpas is suitably rough-toned as the knight Farlaf. On the podium of the Bolshoi Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski opts for brisk tempos that are beneficial for this lengthy work, and draws richly colored playing from his forces.

- Mozart: The Da Ponte Operas
Conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Director: Jürgen Flimm
Cast: Le Nozze di Figaro – Carlos Chausson, Isabel Rey, Eva Mei, Rodney Gilfry, Liliana Nikiteanu, Elisabeth von Magnus, Robert Holl, Volker Vogel, Martin Zysset, Werner Groschel, Lisa Larsson
Cosi fan tutte -- Cecilia Bartoli, Liliana Nikiteanu, Roberto Saccà, Oliver Widmer, Agnes Baltsa, Carlos Chausson
Don Giovanni – Rodney Gilfry, Laszló Polgár, Isabel Rey, Cecilia Bartoli, Roberto Saccà, Oliver Widmer, Matti Salminen
Arthaus 4 058407 092353 (6 DVDs)
As a tribute to the late Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Arthaus has released these videos of performances of the Mozart-da Ponte operas that the Maestro conducted at the Zürich Opera around the turn of the 21st century, beginning with Le Nozze di Figaro (1996), followed by Cosi fan tutte (2000) and Don Giovanni (2001). All of them are directed by Jürgen Flimm, who emphasized a nuanced Personenführung, with timeless, uncluttered, attractive sets by Erich Wonder. Harnoncourt elicits impressive playing from the opera house orchestra that’s characterized by exceptional precision, a wealth of tonal colors, and perfect balance between pit and stage. His hand-picked soloists are outstanding. Rodney Gilfry makes a smart, power-conscious Count Almaviva and an elegant, demonically seductive Don Giovanni, joined in the first role by Eva Mei’s excellent Countess and in the latter by the witty, exemplary Leporello of Laszló Polgár. There is luxury casting with Cecilia Bartoli as Donna Elvira and Fiordiligi, whose flawless singing makes her entirely convincing in these soprano roles, while Isabel Rey is noteworthy as an agile, clever Susanna and a vulnerable but energetic Donna Anna. Roberto Saccà’s Don Ottavio isn’t the usual milquetoast, and while Agnes Baltsa’s Despina is certainly no 15 year-old, the veteran mezzo brings enormous stage presence to the part and portrays the maid as a motherly friend to the two sisters. Carlos Chausson lends his cultivated baritone to Figaro and Don Alfonso; Zürich regular Liliana Nikiteanu displays a warm, attractive mezzo as a charming, loveable Cherubino and as Dorabella. The great bass Matti Salminen is a “rock among the breakers” as the Commendatore with his majestic, unshakable voice.

- Fritz Wunderlich: Complete Studio Recordings With Deutsche Grammophon
DG 4796438 (32 CDs)

- "Fritz Wunderlich: The 50 Greatest Tracks"
DG 4796418 (2 CDs)

- “Fritz Wunderlich”
Excerpts from radio broadcasts and studio recordings with the Bayerische Rundfunk
BR Media 900314 (1 CD)
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the tragic accident (a fall down a stairway) that took the life of the legendary tenor less than 10 days before he would have celebrated his 36th birthday. A versatile artist and the leading lyric tenor of his generation, Wunderlich was not only a great Mozartean stylist, but sang a wide range of operatic roles that encompassed everything from German Singspiel to Handel, Verdi, Puccini, and the Italian bel canto (admittedly often in German translation) as well as Wagner, Strauss, Berg, and Pfitzner. He was equally at home in operetta roles or on the concert stage as an oratorio soloist or Lied interpreter, and wasn’t afraid of making occasional excursions into light, popular songs such as “Granada.” The box set of 32 CDs documents this versatility, including opera recordings such as the landmark Böhm and Jochom versions of Die Zauberflöte and Die Entführung aus dem Serail, respectively; Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and Christmas Oratorio with the tenor as Evangelist, and Haydn’s Die Schöpfung with his Uriel; Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with Wunderlich as tenor soloist; his recordings of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin and Schumann’s Dichterliebe as well as some individual Lieder; and several discs of popular songs. His unmistakable voice is incomparably beautiful and radiant, paired with great expressivity and textual clarity. That he wasn’t perfect becomes clear if one listens to the recordings in chronological order with improvements over time in technique and interpretation becoming perceptible. Though he mastered it, coloratura wasn’t really his strength, and he had a habit of approaching notes from below. The accompanying booklet contains an interesting essay that explores his capacity for managing an enormous amount of work as well as the self-doubts, authenticity, and “heart” of this “Meistersinger.”
Those who already own a number of these recordings or may not want a set of 32 CDs might prefer the two-disc album containing 50 selections from his DG discography that his widow, Eva, chose as representing the best of his work for this label. Along with his Tamino, Belmonte, Lensky, and Alfredo, one hears him as the Steersman in Der fliegende Holländer and the Italian Singer in Der Rosenkavalier – and as an eloquent Lied interpreter. There is also the single CD from the Bayerische Rundfunk that contains excerpts of recordings from 1959-1965 never previously released. Some of them are from Sunday concerts with the Munich Radio Orchestra; others are from studio recordings, many of which were conducted by Hans Moltkau. The tenor’s performances reveal many strengths and very few weaknesses; the operetta arias are sung with unique ease and lightness along with radiant, lustrous tone.

- Norbert Ernst: “Lebt kein Gott?”
Conductor/orchestra: Hartmut Keil, Brandenburg State Orchestra, Frankfurt on the Oder
Arias by Weber, Beethoven, and Wagner
Decca 481 2694 (1 CD)
The reviewer describes Vienna native Norbert Ernst as a “Wagner singer par excellence . . . who’s not yet as famous as he deserves to be.” A member of the ensemble at the Staatsoper in his hometown, the tenor has devoted this album of opera arias to selections from the German Romantic repertoire (the title is taken from Max’s “Durch die Wälder” from Weber’s Der Freischütz). He introduces himself with Florestan’s aria from Fidelio – Ernst is heard as Jaquino in the video recording of this opera from last year’s Salzburg Festival – and follows this with excerpts from Wagner’s Lohengrin, Parsifal, Rienzi, and Tannhäuser, as well as the aforementioned Freischütz. His voice is beautiful, well-focused, and strongly expressive, and his delivery of these pieces is impressive. In Rienzi’s Prayer, he finds exactly the right balance of fervor, intimacy, and a virile, heroic manner. Tannhäuser’s Rome Narration is sung with an overwhelming forcefulness that makes it clear Ernst has carefully considered the meaning of every word and identifies and suffers with the scorned pilgrim. Lohengrin’s Grail Narration is equally moving with its “magical” lyricism. Also deserving of high praise is the Brandenburg State Opera from Frankfurt on the Oder under the baton of Helmut Keil.

- Dmitri Hvorostovsky: “Songs of War, Peace, Love, and Sorrow”
Conductor/orchestra: Constantine Orbelian, State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia
With Asmik Grigorian (soprano)
Arias and ballads from operas by Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, and Rubenstein
Delos DE 3517 (1 CD)
The international star baritone once told an interviewer from the New York Times that with increasing age, he feels himself more and more bound to Russia. So perhaps it’s not surprising that his latest album features an all-Russian program. As the title suggests, excerpts from Prokofiev’s War and Peace are among the selections. In addition to arias and ballads from Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa, Iolanta, and Pique Dame, the recording offers an impressive rarity with the 26-minute finale from Anton Rubinstein’s 1871 opera, The Demon. In this dramatic scene, the titular demon tries to convince the heroine Tamara (sung by soprano Asmik Grigorian), who has taken refuge in a convent, of his love. But his kiss kills her, with the result that he’s damned for all eternity. With his dark, round voice with its characteristic inner glow, Hvorostovsky sings this material with wonderful naturalness and achieves an expressive intensity without any overacting or other mannerisms.

- Emalie Savoy: “A Portrait”
Conductor/orchestra: Matthias Foremny, Brandenburg State Orchestra, Frankfurt on the Oder
With Jonathan Ware (pianist)
Arias from Iolanta, Rusalka, and Der Freischütz; song cycles by Ravel and Barber
Genuin GEN 16436 (1 CD)
This is a fine introductory recording for soprano Emalie Savoy, first prize winner in the vocal category at the 2015 ARD International Music Competition in Munich. The native New Yorker presents herself here as both opera singer and Lied interpreter, with selections that show the lyrical beauty of her voice to best advantage. Her account of Ravel’s Shehérazade is absolutely “magical,” with a fascinating combination of morbidezza and erotic tension. She invests Agathe’s “Leise, leise, fromme Weise” from Der Freischütz with incomparable intimacy, and gives attractive accounts of Iolanta’s aria and Rusalka’s Song to the Moon. Matthias Foremny on the podium of Frankfurt on the Oder’s Brandenburg State Orchestra accompanies her with a fine sense for nuance and poetry. She’s partnered by pianist Jonathan Ware in Samuel Barber’s 1953 Lied cycle Hermit Song, consisting of 10 short pieces. The last of these, “The Desire for Hermitage,” with its theme of loneliness, is especially memorable.

- Philippe Jaroussky: Bach – Telemann
With the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and oboist Ann-Kathrin Brüggemann
Warner/Erato 0825646491599 (I CD)
This disc of cantatas by J. S. Bach and Telemann marks the countertenor’s first solo recording in the German language. The style of latter’s two Passion cantatas, Der am Ölberg zagende Jesus and Jesus liegt in letzten Zügen, remind the listener that Telemann was an outstanding opera composer, yet Jaroussky’s extremely simple, intimate accounts do full justice to the spirituality of these deeply moving works. Likewise in the Bach cantatas, Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust (BWV 170) and Ich habe genug (BWV 82), he produces effects of overpowering beauty with his flawless, wonderfully agile, and well-focused singing. In every case, though, tonal beauty is always allied to content, depth, and genuine feeling. He receives outstanding support from the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra (whose musicians perform without a conductor), and has a distinguished partner in oboist Ann-Kathrin Brüggemann in the aria, “Ich habe genug.”

- Ian Bostridge: “Shakespeare Songs”
With Sir Antonio Pappano (pianist), Elizabeth Kenny (lutist), Adam Walker (flautist), Michael Collins (clarinetist), and Lawrence Power (violist)
Warner 0825646106639 (1 CD)
To mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Ian Bostridge and Sir Tony Pappano have collaborated on this program of musical settings of song texts written by the Bard for some of his comedies and tragedies. The tenor has made a wonderful selection from among the countless available pieces with material ranging from 1600 into the 20th century. Among the composers represented are Shakespeare’s contemporaries William Byrd, Thomas Morley, John Wilson, and Robert Johnson, in whose songs Bostridge is joined by lutist Elizabeth Kenny. Representing the century just past are Poulenc, Korngold, Britten, Tippet, Roger Quilter, Ivor Gurney, and Peter Warlock. Lieder by Schubert and Haydn that were written for German translations of Shakespeare’s verse are sung here in the original English: Schubert’s “Who is Silvia” from Two Gentlemen of Verona and Haydn’s “She never told her love” from Twelfth Night. Of special interest are three Stravinsky settings that had their world premiere in Los Angeles in 1954, with the composer choosing a flute, clarinet, and viola, respectively, as the accompanying instruments. With his lean, youthful-sounding, very supple voice, Bostridge is a pleasure to hear in the many lyrical pieces, and his treatment of the text reveals the “delicious humor” in many of Shakespeare’s verses.

- Clemens Morgenthaler: Songs by Josef Gabriel Rheinberger
With Bernhard Renzikowski (pianist)
Querstand VKJK 1622 (1 CD)
Though a celebrated composer during his lifetime (1839-1901) and the teacher of Max Bruch, Richard Strauss, and Wilhelm Furtwängler, Josef Gabriel Rheinberger has since been largely forgotten. Now bass-baritone Clemens Morgenthaler has studied the approximately 100 Lieder written by Rheinberger and selected 30 of them for this CD recorded with pianist Bernhard Renzikowski. The songs are performed in chronological order, with composition dates extending from 1853 to 1883, so that the listener can trace the development of Rheinberger’s style – Late Romantic, but with a Classical clarity of form. Morgenthaler’s interpretation is able to evoke a certain charm and the songs’ intimate moods, but too often, his singing is unvaried and he doesn’t seem really involved with the material. Nonetheless, this disc is recommended to all “treasure seekers,” as this is the world premiere recording for 13 of these Lieder.

- Ulf Bästlein: “Seid menschlich, froh, und gut”
With Sascha El Mouissi (pianist)
Songs to poems by Johann Heinrich Voss
Gramola 99118 (1 CD)
Johann Heinrich Voss is remembered in German-speaking countries for his translations of Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, but the remainder of his work has largely been forgotten. So this recording of song settings of his verses by composers both well known (Schubert, Weber, and Brahms) and unfamiliar (Franz Xaver Sterkel, Johann Abraham Peter Schulz), interpreted by bass-baritone Ulf Bästlein and pianist Sascha El Mouissi, is a welcome addition to the Lied discography. The album title (“Be humane, joyful, and good”) suggests the mood of these poems, which shifts between emotionalism and tranquility. There is a charming piece in Plattdeutsch, “Jaapt nich so sehr, mien leev Kompaar, na de verwünschen Deerens” (“Don’t gaze after the wicked girl so much, my dear friend”), which is performed here in a pretty arrangement by Friedrich Ludwig Æmilius Kunzen. Bästlein’s interpretations are agreeably simple, without any mannerisms – “a considerable accomplishment,” in the reviewer’s estimation.

- Eva Resch: “Being Beauteous”
With François Salignat (pianist)
Songs by Britten and Debussy
Genuin GEN 16430 (1 CD)
Soprano Eva Resch presents a program that is indeed beautiful and well thought-out, encompassing Britten’s Les Illuminations and Debussy’s settings of Verlaine poems. Britten actually wrote the song cycle set to text by Arthur Rimbaud for male voice – that of Wulff Scherchen, but later dedicated it to his partner, Peter Pears. Debussy, who received piano instruction from Verlaine’s mother-in-law, was probably also aware of the amour fou between Verlaine and the young Rimbaud, and either in spite of (or perhaps because of) this, set 16 of Verlaine’s “highly musical” verses in song. Though Resch doesn’t have a very big soprano, she can produce a broad palette of tonal colors to capture a wide range of emotions and approaches these Lieder with a fine sensitivity for their moods and feelings. And while Britten’s songs were originally composed for string orchestra accompaniment, one cannot praise pianist François Salignat highly enough for the poetic, uncommonly nuanced quality of his playing, with refined effects that precisely suit the complexity of these pieces.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Verdi: Otello
Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Director: Bartlett Sher
Cast: Aleksandrs Antonenko, Sonya Yoncheva, Željko Lučiċ, Dimitri Pittas, Günther Groissböck, Jennifer Johnson Cano, Chad Shelton, Jeff Matsey, Tyler Duncan
Sony Classical 88985308909
A strong musical performance (Dimitri Pittas’ “shrill” Cassio excepted) is compromised by weak direction in this production from the Met. Bartlett Sher updates the opera’s events from the Renaissance to the period of its composition – nothing new there, as the reviewer observes – and pretty much leaves the chorus and soloists to their own devices. Even Es Devlin’s atmospheric sets that underscore the claustrophobic, menacing environment in which the protagonists live can’t entirely rescue Sher’s inconspicuous staging. If anything can save it, that would be the “sensational” Desdemona of Sonya Yoncheva, Željko Lučiċ’s convincing Iago, and the nuanced Otello of Aleksandrs Antonenko along with the masterful playing of the Met Orchestra led by their future Music Director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin. The soprano’s beautiful timbre, technical security, and expressivity are combined with a compelling stage presence and make the beginning of Act IV the highlight of the performance. Instead of a stereotypical villain, Lučiċ’s Iago is a skillful manipulator who grasps the impact a soft tone can make – but who can also turn up the intensity when needed. Antonenko likewise has stentorian power at his command when he requires it, but doesn’t bellow his way through the title role. In fact, he’s even more convincing when he scales back the volume of his tenor and continually finds new tonal shadings. Among the smaller roles, Günther Groissböck’s Lodovico is “pure luxury.” On the podium, Maestro Nézet-Séguin maintains the right balance between musical refinement and dramatic energy, and carefully guides the singers through the tricky parts of their roles while never letting the suspense slacken.

- Mayr: Medea in Corinto
Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Director: Benedetto Sicca
Cast: Davinia Rodriguez, Michael Spyres, Mihaela Marcu, Enea Scala, Roberto Lorenzi, Paolo Cauteruccio, Marco Stefani, Nozomi Kato
Dynamic 37735 (2 DVDs)
This production comes from the 2015 Festival Martina Franca, which has established an international reputation for its revivals of seldom heard or forgotten operas. Unfortunately, a clumsy (even a little laughable) and unimaginative staging undercuts a very respectable musical performance of this Mayr rarity. The setting itself is impressive, with the interior court of the Palazzo Ducale providing a backdrop for events that really suggests ancient Greek mythology; Medea’s curse, hurled from one of the palace’s upper windows, makes a hair-raising impact. Most of the action takes place on a verdant meadow with red flowers that’s pretty to look at and is sharply contrasted with Medea’s grisly murders of her children and her rival Creusa. A ditch running through the meadow is used for a variety of purposes by both soloists and choristers. From the beginning of the performance, a young man and woman with long, platinum blond hair are onstage executing slow, harmonious dance movements, but their purpose is unclear until much later, when one finally realizes that they’re supposed to be Medea’s children – one certainly hadn’t imagined her offspring as adults. In general, though, director Benedetto Sicca’s Personenführung is conspicuously lacking in ideas. That’s regrettable, since Davinia Rodriguez is an exceptional Medea, with feline movements and a mixture of passion and hatred in her eyes that are paired with a voluminous soprano that can encompass the most exalted emotions. Michael Spyres brings his glowing tenor to Giasone, yet his portrayal is on the whole uneven. Often, he seems to stand outside the role instead of inhabiting it, though the director undoubtedly gets a healthy dose of the blame for that. Enea Scala is a virile, pugnacious Egeo, while Mihaela Marcu makes a loveable, feminine Creusa who is a complete contrast to the vengeance-obsessed Medea. Mayr’s score is in good hands with conductor Fabio Luisi, whose forte may not be the exultant or exuberant, but who is still able to create suspenseful moments. The musicians of the Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia give it their best, but can’t prevent a lack of dramatic tension in some scenes.

- Braunfels: Orchestral Songs, Vol. 2
Conductor/orchestra: Hansjörg Albrecht, Orchestra of the Berlin Concert House
With Camilla Nylund, Genia Kühmeier, and Ricarda Merbeth (sopranos)
Oehms Classics OC 1847 (1 CD)
A very popular composer in Germany before the Nazis came to power, the half-Jewish Walter Braunfels was dismissed from his position as director of Cologne’s Academy of Music and his music banned as “degenerate” during the Third Reich. When he resumed his work after the end of the Second World War, he found his compositions derided as old-fashioned. After a half-century of neglect, his music is finally experiencing a revival of public interest. This is the second in a series of recordings of his Orchestral Songs composed between 1914 and 1945 (including the period of “internal emigration” from 1933-1945). These are pieces of delicate sensitivity in a Late Romantic style, not unlike Strauss’ Vier letzte Lieder. Conductor Hansjörg Albrecht shows an unerring feeling for the magnificent colors in Braunfels’ writing, allowing the Orchestra of the Berlin Concert House to revel in the instrumentation’s rich shadings without laying things on too thickly. Two of the soprano soloists are excellent. Camilla Nylund’s flexible, silvery voice is ideally suited to the “Three Chinese Songs” in Hans Bethge’s adaptation (also used by Mahler in his Das Lied von der Erde) and she fills the “Romantic Songs” from 1936 set to verses by Brentano and Eichendorf with poetic longing. There is also a perfect match between Genia Kühmeier’s clear, girlish sound and the visionary texts of the mystic Mechthild von Magdeburg. Unfortunately, Ricarda Merbeth’s singing of “Der Tod von Kleopatra” (The Death of Cleopatra) and “Four Japanese Songs” is marred by too much vibrato, so that one only gains a limited appreciation of the beauty of these pieces, composed in 1944-1945 near the war’s end.

MAuer
November 4th, 2016, 11:36 AM
Some rarities, several remastered mid-century opera recordings, and a few tenors doing the crossover thing are among the latest releases reviewed in the November, 2016, issue of Das Opernglas (http://www.opernglas.de/).

RECOMMENDED

- Nicolai: Die Heimkehr des Verbannten (Return of the Exile)
Conductor: Frank Beerman
Cast: Julia Bauer, Hans-Christoph Begemann, Bernhard Berchtold, Kouta Räsänen, Uwe Stickert, André Riemer, et. al.
cpo 77 654-2 (2 CDs)
The original version of Otto Nicolai’s opera set during England’s War of the Roses had an Italian libretto by Gaetano Rossi, and premiered at La Scala in 1841 under the title Il Proscritto. The work wasn’t exactly a resounding success, so Nicolai overhauled his score and set the music to a German translation by Siegfried Kapper, and this revised version premiered at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien in 1844. The composer made substantial revisions in 1848 for a performance in Berlin, with events updated to the Restoration and about only 15 percent of the music from the Milan Urfassung remaining. This 2011 performance from the Chemnitz Theater is based on the Vienna version. The plot is centered on the typical romantic triangle. In 1461, Leonore, the widow of the Yorkist Lord Artur Norton, has become engaged to the Lancastrian nobleman Edmund, Earl of Pembroke. A day before the nuptials, who should show up but the supposedly dead Lord Artur. Edmund generously renounces his claim to Leonore and secures a pardon from the King for his rival. So all should end happily, right? Not at all. Leonore can’t decide which of the two men she loves most (never mind that she is now still legally married to Artur), and her solution to this dilemma is to commit suicide!
When it comes to the revival of neglected or forgotten operas, the Chemnitz Theater has proven itself the Little Engine That Could. This recording is no exception. Nicolai’s partitur continually amazes with its lush orchestration and fresh melodic invention, and it exceeds even the bel canto model in the extreme demands it places on performers. As Leonore, soprano Julia Bauer displays an “incredible” virtuosity in her opening aria (“Heil’ge Flamme fühl’ im Herzen Ich anglühen”), with a “dizzying” account of its spectacular coloratura. Hans-Christoph Begemann brings a secure baritone to the role of Edmund, to which the composer has assigned a cello accompaniment, while Bernhard Berchtold’s Artur, sung with a sweeping, attractive tenor and great intensity, is joined by an elegant clarinet. The Chemnitz Chorus, prepared by Mary Adelynn Kauffmann, is in splendid form, and the Robert Schumann Orchestra, led by Frank Beerman, is up to all of the considerable challenges of Nicolai’s score.

- Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro
Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Cast: Luca Pisaroni, Christiane Karg, Thomas Hampson, Sonya Yoncheva, Angela Brower, Maurizio Muraro, Anne Sofie von Otter, Philippe Sly, Regula Mühlemann, Rolando Villazón, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt
Deutsche Grammophon 4795945 (3 CDs)
Add Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s new interpretation of Le Nozze di Figaro to the best recordings of this opera currently available – and with it, the choice of one’s favorite among them has just become a little more difficult. Playing original instruments, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe produces a trim but splendid sound, with the conductor inconspicuously guiding his forces in historic performance practices. The soloists are allowed to insert a bit of ornamentation in appropriate spots, and the Hammerklavier that accompanies the recitatives inserts a few arabesques in some of the musical numbers. What would seem eccentric and challenging with Jacobs or Currentzis comes across here as completely natural. Curiously, though the spontaneity of the word play and situation comedy in the recitatives and ensembles makes the listener feel as if he/she is actually present in the Almavivas’ palace, the arias put one more in mind of a fine concert performance. The soloists are excellent as both individuals and as an ensemble. Thomas Hampson uses his noble, elegant baritone to portray the Count as a quick-tempered but fundamentally kind-hearted man whose “Contessa, perdono” conveys genuine remorse. Luca Pisaroni is a magnificent Figaro, though without the bite of his Leporello in Nézet-Séguin’s recording of Don Giovanni; one suspects that if this master and servant had met in real life, Almaviva would have gotten the upper hand. Christiane Karg’s Susanna combines all of the virtues of her many predecessors on disc and offers a superb account of “Deh vieni, non tardar.” From a vocal standpoint, Sonya Yoncheva’s is the finest performance on this recording. Her opulent soprano flows beautifully and always sustains the musical line. But she never seems to have really internalized her character in the way the other soloists have, making her Countess the one artificial figure among individuals of flesh and blood. She accepts her husband’s apology with “marmoreal coolness.” In contrast, Angela Brower makes a touchingly innocent-sounding Cherubino who is completely unaware of his effect on the ladies; veteran mezzo Anne-Sophie von Otter is a wonderful, matronly Marcellina who is joined by Maurizio Murano’s good-natured, rambunctious Dr. Bartolo in the best Italian bass buffo tradition. Although he appears on each recording in Nézet-Séguin’s complete Mozart opera series, Rolando Villazón isn’t really known as a Mozartean stylist. Nonetheless, his portrayal of Don Basilio, which carefully balances a combination of character tenor “crowing” and ironically schmaltzy portamentos with just the right amount of exaggeration, suggests that casting him in these operas wasn’t just a marketing gimmick.

- Krenek: Orpheus und Eurydike
Conductor: Pinchas Steinberg
Cast: Ronald Hamilton, Dunja Vezjovic, Celina Lindsley, Cornelia Kallisch, Gabriele Schreckenbach, Jutta Geister, Bo Skovhus, et. al.
Orfeo C 923 1621 (2 CDs)
Krenek’s opera dealing with the Orpheus myth is based on a play by Oskar Kokoschka, with an Expressionist treatment that reflects the playwright’s traumatic experiences in the First World War as well as the breakup of his romantic relationship with Alma Mahler. In this version of the story, Orpheus and Eurydice have a love-hate relationship which turns into a battle of the sexes; he loses love as the source for his art, goes mad, and at the end, is strangled by his wife. A contrast is provided by the Arcadia of Psyche and Amor in the opera’s postlude, which offers hope for the blossoming of art and love once again. Krenek didn’t have an easy time developing an appropriate musical expression for a text with a meaning he found difficult to discern, but finally arrived at an adequate interpretation. The score is based on the atonality of his instrumental works, but still achieves a “pulsing vitality.” Dynamic contrasts, which often include noises, are marked by a hard, unrelenting expressivity, the vocal writing pays scant regard to the production of rounded harmonies, and the whole is held together solely by symbolically placed thematic structures. This recording is of a live performance at the 1990 Salzburg Festival on 23 August, the composer’s 90th birthday. Under the baton of Pinchas Steinberg, the Austrian Broadcasting (ORF) Symphony Orchestra hits the nerve of this music with their controlled emphasis on a precision that untangles Krenek’s endlessly entwined structures, letting them glow or become blurry as needed. Dunja Vezjovic, a noted Wagnerian mezzo, is a Eurydike who seems to have come straight from Bayreuth with the forceful, emphatic manner in which she projects her voice over the orchestra. She doesn’t always produce a beautiful tone and no longer sounds quite as “sovereign” as she did in the Karajan era, yet displays what the reviewer calls “sheer effervescent mastery” of this intricate role. As Orpheus, Ronald Hamilton’s heldentenor possesses more color and shines in every moment when heroic quality is required, making him a dignified counterpart to Vezjovic’s Eurydike in every phrase. Celina Lindsley is a convincing Psyche with her clear, light, flowing soprano that never veers into soubrette mannerisms (there is no role for Amor). The Furies of Cornelia Kallisch, Gabriele Schreckenbach, and Jutta Geister are rather too similar sounding, creating the impression that only one person is singing. Baritone Bo Skovhus offers a firm, radiant-voiced Fool.

- Pluhar: Orfeo Chamán
Conductor: Christina Pluhar
Directors: Rolf and Heidi Abderhalden
Cast: Nahuel Pennisi, Luciana Mancini, Vincenzo Caprezzuto, Emiliano Gonzales Toro
Warner/Erato 0190295969691 (1 CD; 1 bonus DVD)
The manner in which this opera came into existence is rather atypical, as the Director of Bogotá’s Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo approached the stage directors Rolf and Heidi Abderhalden and asked them to produce a new opera. However, the opera itself didn’t exist yet. The couple contacted composer Christina Pluhar, a resident of Paris, and the three soon agreed on an unusual project, namely combining the ancient Greek Orpheus myth with pre-Columbian rituals to send the hero on a shamanistic journey. Pluhar composed the lion’s share of the score for Orfeo Chamán, but also borrowed a little material from the early Baroque period and arranged it for her 15-member orchestra, L’Arpeggiata. The libretto was written by the poet Hugo Chaparro Valderrama, though in the end it had to be significantly shortened. Even with the cuts, the live performance seen on the DVD that’s part of this set lasts over two hours, while the CD containing only the sung numbers runs to around 69 minutes. During the film’s opening credits, exciting scenes of the South American rainforest lead the viewer into the mysterious world in which the opera’s events take place. Among the characters in this version of the myth is not only the central couple of Orpheus and Eurydice, but also Nahuel, Orpheus’ protective spirit, and Aristaios, the god of apiculture who tries to rape Eurydice. At the end, Orpheus is torn to pieces by the Bacchantes, enraged by their failure to seduce him owing to his continuing love for “a phantom” – i.e., Eurydice.
In this performance in which Pluhar both conducts and plays the theorbo, the role of Orpheus has been cast with Nahuel Pennisi, a blind 26 year-old native of Buenos Aires who has been appearing as a street singer since the age of 16, and has a very distinctive way of singing and playing the guitar. For Pluhar, he is the ideal embodiment of the way she envisions this figure. In fact, his extraordinary voice doesn’t always sound beautiful and is often quite penetrating though never shrill. The reviewer observes that it’s hard to find adequate comparisons for his singular portrayal of the hero and the manner in which he fills his voice with sorrow – from loud howling at the end of the second act to his resigned lament. He’s joined by the radiant Eurydice of mezzo Luciana Mancini, who has made a name for herself in early Italian operas. With his youthful voice reminiscent of a countertenor, Vincenzo Capezzuto is a nearly perfect choice for Nahuel, while tenor Emiliano Gonzales Toro makes an exemplary Aristaios.

- Mozart: Die Zauberflöte
Conductor: Otto Klemperer
Cast: Nicolai Gedda, Gundula Janowitz, Walter Berry, Gottlob Frick, Lucia Popp, Gerhard Unger, Franz Crass, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Christa Ludwig, Agnes Giebel, Marga Höffgen, et. al.
Warner 0825646994366 (2 CDs)

- Mozart: Don Giovanni
Conductor: Carlo Maria Giulini
Cast: Eberhard Wächter, Giuseppe Taddei, Dame Joan Sutherland, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Luigi Alva, Graziella Sciutti, Piero Cappuccilli, Gottlob Frick
Warner 0825646994052 (3 CDs)

- Bizet: Carmen
Conductor: Sir Thomas Beecham
Cast: Victoria de Los Angeles, Nicolai Gedda, Ernest Blanc, Janine Micheau, Denise Monteil, Monique Linval, Jean-Christoph Benoit, Michel Hamel, Bernard Plantey, Xavier Depraz
Warner 0825646994489 (3 CDs)

- Puccini: Tosca
Conductor: Georges Prêtre
Cast: Maria Callas, Carlo Bergonzi, Tito Gobbi, Giorgio Tadeo, Leonardo Monreale, Renato Ercolani, Ugo Trama, David Sellar, Leonardo Monreale
Warner 0190295989378 (2 CDs)

- Verdi: La Traviata
Conductor: Riccardo Muti
Cast: Renata Scotto, Alfredo Kraus, Renato Bruson, Sarah Walker, Cynthia Buchan, Suso Mariategui, Henry Newman, Richard Van Allan, Roderick Kennedy, Max-René Cosotti, Christopher Keyte
Warner 0825646483181 (2 CDs)
All of these recordings from the EMI archives, which, with one exception, were made in the middle decades of the previous century, have been remastered by Warner in the same process as the “Callas Edition.” The reviewer gives them all a thumbs-up (some more than others), but does quibble about the use of Warner’s logo instead of the old EMI one on the box sets. And these are big boxes, thanks to the inclusion of a CD-sized reproduction of the librettos and translations that accompanied the original LPs. The two Mozart operas have superlative casts right down to the minor roles. The only caution is that all of the spoken dialogue was omitted during the recording of Klemperer’s Die Zauberflöte. The reviewer also notes that Eberhard Wächter’s “Kavaliersbariton” in the role of Don Giovanni may remain a matter of taste for some listeners, but there’s no doubt about the outstanding quality of his voice when this recording was made in 1959. Sir Thomas Beecham’s Carmen comes from the same year, with Victoria de Los Angeles’ soprano title heroine a mixture of young girl and femme fatale. Nicolai Gedda’s youthful Don José gets high marks for being “no Otello on vacation in Spain” and offering the appropriate trim, elegant Opéra-comique sound – as does Ernest Blanc’s very idiomatic Escamillo. Sir Thomas’ reading of Bizet’s score has a breathtaking vigor that unrelentingly propels the drama forward. The Prêtre Tosca might be the weakest recording among the group, despite the presence of both Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi in the cast. When the studio sessions took place in 1964-65, the soprano’s vocal resources were clearly diminished (though she is as dramatically engaged as ever), and Gobbi’s baritone was also no longer quite what it used to be. Carlo Bergonzi is a technically brilliant, but on the whole too controlled Cavaradossi with whom Callas doesn’t harmonize nearly as well as she did with Giuseppe di Stefano 12 years earlier. The newest among these reissues is Riccardo Muti’s 1982 La Traviata, in which his robust, uncompromising interpretation of Verdi’s score is an “event,” with Renata Scotto, Alfredo Kraus, and Renato Bruson in the three leading roles.

- Orff: Carmina Burana
Conductor: Matthias Georg Kendlinger
Soloists: Anna Shumarina, Tilmann Unger, Stepan Drobit
Da Capo 9 120006 600408 (1 CD and 1 DVD)
The founder (in 2002 and 2003) of the K&K (Kaiserlich und Königlich – Imperial and Royal – the designation of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire) Philharmonic and K&K Opera Chorus, Matthias Georg Kendlinger only discovered classical music as an adult, when he attended a performance of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte in Mannheim. His background is actually in German folk music, specifically as an accordion player. He’s often been attacked by both critics and colleagues for his lack of the traditional education at a music university or conservatory – as one learns from the bonus DVD that is included in this set. His recording of Carmina Burana is not flawless (specifically the soloists), but still gets a recommendation from the reviewer. Kendlinger says it’s nearly impossible to perceive everything that’s happening at the beginning of this work, yet the results he achieves are worth hearing. He obviously loves a monumental sound, as the opening and concluding choruses in this live 2015 performance from Berlin’s Concert House demonstrate. He keeps the percussion section of his orchestra pretty busy, as well. Among the soloists, Anna Shumarina may be the best, producing a smooth and very direct soprano. Stepan Drobit manages the baritone part reliably, with a sonorous, well-articulated midrange (though now and then a little weakness in the upper register), and he handles the falsetto sections with an amusing “wink of the eye.” Least satisfactory of the three is tenor Tilmann Unger, who also evinces an occasional strain on top. The K&K Opera Chorus – here under its other name of the Ukrainian National Chorus Lviv – sings well, capable of both nuance and a powerful fullness of sound, as well as precision and sensitivity in delicate phrases. In the reviewer’s assessment, “all in all, a recording worth hearing.”

- Regula Mühlemann: Mozart Arias
Conductor/orchestra: Umberto Benedetti Michelangeli, Basel Chamber Orchestra
Sony 8985337582 (1 CD)
“Pure Mozart joy” is the reviewer’s description of Swiss soprano Regula Mühlemann’s debut solo album. Her appealing program includes both well-known and less familiar selections. Among the former are Servilia’s “S’altro che lagrime” from La Clemenza di Tito, Blondchen’s “Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln” from Die Entführung aus dem Serail, and the popular religious motet Exultate, Jubilate. Included with the latter are a pair of arias Mozart wrote for his sisters-in-law: “Schon lacht der holde Frühling” (KV 580) for Josepha Weber Hofer and “Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio . . . Ah, conte, partite” (KV 418) for Aloisia Weber Lange. With her fresh, silvery, rounded timbre, Mühlemann sings all of these pieces with a captivating purity and an animation that underscores her close identification with this composer and his characters. She receives sensitive support from conductor Umberto Benedetti Michelangeli and the Basel Chamber Orchestra.

- Franco Fagioli: Rossini
Conductor/orchestra: George Petrou, Armonia Atenea
Deutsche Grammophon 479 5681 (1 CD)
Only one of the roles in Rossini’s operas was composed for a castrato: Arsace in Aureliano in Palmira. All of the other male figures to whom he assigned the higher range of the castrati were written as breeches roles for women. But now countertenors are taking on these characters as well as those associated with the castrati in what the reviewer terms a “revolution” in the history of Rossini opera performance. For his latest album, Franco Fagioli has made a very personal selection of pieces that are especially suited to his voice. (Interestingly, the Aureliano Arsace is not among the roles represented here.) But the reviewer assures us the listener will be “richly rewarded” by hearing the excerpts from Demetrio e Polibio, Matilde di Shabran, Adelaide di Borgogna, Tancredi, Semiramide, and Eduardo e Cristina. The ease and pinpoint accuracy with which Fagioli executes coloratura passages and the way he imbues his voice with golden tone in the upper register is “phenomenal.” He has ideal partners in George Petrou and the Armonia Atenea orchestra.

- Richard Danielpour: Songs of Solitude, War Songs
Thomas Hampson (baritone)
Conductor/orchestra: Giancarlo Guerrero, Nashville Symphony
Naxos 8.559792 (1 CD)
To mark the sesquicentennial of the end of the American Civil War, baritone Thomas Hampson and the Nashville Symphony presented this concert in March, 2015, featuring Richard Danielpour’s War Songs, set to verses by Walt Whitman. (The poet volunteered for nursing duty during the war at Union Army hospitals in Washington, D.C., and kept a journal of his wartime experiences.) All five of these songs are deeply moving, especially the longest, “Come up from the fields, Father,” in which parents learn of their only son’s death in battle. Danielpour’s music goes straight to the heart with its discreet, intimate solo cello and never comes close to sentimentality. The concert program pairs the Whitman songs with another of Danielpour’s Lied cycles, Songs of Solitude, with verses by William Butler Yeats. The poet’s very demanding texts are made more understandable and emotionally accessible by the music. The high point among these six pieces is “The Second Coming,” which also has war metaphors. Its central line, “The ceremony of innocence is drowned,” figures significantly in Britten’s The Turn of the Screw as well. With his supple, attractive voice, Hampson is the ideal interpreter for both of these cycles. He masters what the reviewer calls “the emotional tour-de-force” of this material with a sovereignty that makes his personal identification with them perceptible. This CD is a “must” for fans of Hampson and American music.

- Joyce Di Donato: “In War and Peace”
Conductor/orchestra: Maxim Emelyanychev, Il Pomo d’Oro
Arias by Handel, Leo, Jommelli, Monteverdi, and Purcell
Warner/Erato 0190295928464 (1 CD)
This is the album tied in to Joyce Di Donato’s project that is a response to current world events and in which she encouraged fans to share their thoughts about finding peace in a time of chaos on her web site (the posts are included in the accompanying booklet). This is a magnificent, wonderfully imaginative recording that one will never tire of hearing. The mezzo introduces wartime with the tremendously powerful “Scenes of horror, scenes of war” from Handel’s Jephtha that contains vivid imagery of armed conflict which could hardly be more terrifying. Agrippina’s fear of her enemies burdens the Dowager Empress like a nightmare, and Di Donato creates a brilliant, breathtaking vision of this woman’s emotional state in “Pensieri, voi mi tormentate” from the same composer’s Agrippina. There are also gentler selections, such as “Lascia ch’io pianga” from Rinaldo, or the delicate “Crystal streams in murmurs flowing” from Handel’s oratorio Susanna, that draw more raves from the reviewer. In addition to arias by Handel, Monteverdi, and Purcell, Di Donato has chosen some pieces by the lesser known Leonardo Leo and Niccolò Jommelli. For several of them, this marks the first time they have been recorded. There is excellent accompaniment from the HIP ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro led by Maxim Emelyanychev.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Verdi: Aida
Conductor: Zubin Mehta
Cast: Kristin Lewis, Andrea Bocelli, Veronica Simeoni, Ambrogio Maestri, Carlo Colombara, Giorgio Giuseppini, Maria Katzarava, Juan José de León
Decca 4830075 (2 CDs)
It’s probably not a good sign when a recording’s two leading soloists are among its minuses. Kristen Lewis’ Aida displays a beautiful midrange, but her low register evinces some vocal discolorations and her top some tightness, so that her high notes lack the luster and effortlessness of her notable predecessors in this role. She reaches the high C in the Nile aria, but the reviewer observes that the journey there isn’t entirely easy. To the surprise of probably no one except his devoted fans, Andrea Bocelli is in over his head as Radamès. He sings the notes correctly, with clear diction and noticeable involvement, and he’d obviously studied the decrescendo on the final note of “Celeste Aida” – though apparently gets some help from the recording technicians here. However, his lyric instrument possesses neither the luster that allows cantilenas to blossom nor the vocal grandeur that enables dramatic passages to sound unforced. He tries for variety in the use of portamento and legato, but the result on the whole is too stiff or shrill. His lack of vocal substance is evident not only in comparison to the world-class tenors heard in this role, but also in contrast to the large, and usually rich and full voices of the other soloists on this recording. With her dark, well-schooled, unforced mezzo, Veronica Simeoni makes a convincing Amneris and dominates the scenes with Radamès, while Ambrogio Maestri lends a rich, noble baritone to Amonasro. His portrayal is textbook grand opera; only his singing in the upper register is not as masterful as the rest of his performance. Carlo Colombara’s big bass provides Ramfis with the necessary authority, though Giorgio Giuseppini sings a little too powerfully as the King of Egypt. The minor roles of the temple priestess and messenger have been exceptionally well-cast with Maria Katzarava (a former Opera Lively interviewee) and Juan José de León, respectively, whose colorful voices are a pleasure to hear. There are flawless contributions from the Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino under the baton of Zubin Mehta, who offers a seasoned reading of Verdi’s score. However, his previous recordings of this opera displayed considerably more dramatic intensity. Moreover, the sound technicians play an audible role in the overall quality of this recording, with many singers and solo instruments all too clearly emphasized. In sum, “experienced” listeners will find some enjoyment in this Aida, thanks to Simeoni, Maestri, Katzarava, and de León.

- Leonid Desjatnikov: The Children of Rosenthal
Conductor: Alexander Vedernikov
Cast: Elena Manistina, Maxim Paster, Vsevolod Grivnov, Alexander Teliga, Vassily Ladyuk, Pyotr Migunov, Kristina Mkhitaryan
Melodiya 10 02432 (2 CDs)
The first opera commissioned by the Bolshoi Theater in three decades, this collaboration between composer Leonid Desjatnikov and librettist Vladimir Sorokin created a scandal 11 years ago prior to its world premiere. The problem was the choice of Sorokin to pen the work’s text; the author and playwright was already on the black list of Kremlin officials for his novels and plays with their post-modern absurdity and liberal use of earthy language. Already two years before the opera premiered, his libretto was attacked by said officials as a “pornographic abyss,” though they evidently hadn’t read a line of it. Though some members of the Duma demanded the work be banned, neither they nor the demonstrations by what the reviewer refers to as the “Putin Jugend” (an obvious play on Hitler Jugend) could hinder the premiere in March, 2005. After the ensuing personnel turmoil at the Bolshoi had settled down again, the agitation quickly abated and nothing more was heard of this opera until last year, when its 10th anniversary was marked by the concert performance heard on this recording. The sound quality of the two-disc set is exemplary, offering “solid acoustical opera cinema” and accompanied by the libretto in Russian and an English translation. The reviewer observes that, even with the greatest ill will, one would be hard pressed to find anything objectionable in Sorokin’s libretto. The plot centers on the scientist Alex Rosenthal, who has fled from Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union. Rosenthal has discovered the process for cloning human life, which has enabled the mass breeding of workers and brought the scientist the highest prestige with Stalin’s government. However, his dream is to resurrect the great geniuses of the past (namely his favorite opera composers) – something frowned upon by Party doctrine, which insists these individuals have already made their contributions to the progress of humanity. So Rosenthal has had to revive Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, and Mussorgsky in the privacy of his remote Dacha, which makes for a distinctly uneventful first act. In the second act, Rosenthal has died, leaving his five “children” to fend for themselves as street musicians. Mozart falls in love with the prostitute Tanya, whose freedom Verdi is able to purchase with Rosenthal’s gold pocket watch. Mussorgsky supplies the vodka for the wedding celebration, but the booze has been poisoned by Tanya’s vengeful pimp. However, Wolfgang’s original demise through mercury poisoning has given him immunity to toxic substances, so he ends up as the sole survivor among the five revived geniuses. At the end, he wakes up alone in a hospital bed with nothing but his (magic) flute in his hands.
Desjatnikov’s score reflects the return to tonality and a “numbers opera” among present-day composers, and displays a certain skillfulness in the creation of déjà-entendu effects. What’s missing is a distinctive musical signature of his own. Some listeners may be less than pleased by his assignment of the role of Wagner to a mezzo soprano, but one would gladly hear Elena Manistina in one of that composer’s breeches roles such as Adriano in Rienzi or the shepherd boy in Tannhäuser. There are appealing contributions from the tenors Maxim Paster and Vsevolod Grivnov, the former as a sensitive Tchaikovsky and the latter as a youthful, exuberant Mozart. Alexander Teliga is a powerful bass Mussorgsky, but Vassily Ledyuk sounds insufficiently distinct for a “Verdi baritone.” Pyotr Migunov is likewise a pallid Rosenthal, while the real standout performance comes from Kristina Mkhitaryan (Tanya), whose lyric soprano is accompanied by lovely woodwinds and horns. Led by Alexander Vedernikov, the Bolshoi’s Orchestra and Chorus do full justice to their lofty reputation.

- Mozart: Don Giovanni
Conductor: Teodor Currentzis
Cast: Dimitris Tiliakos, Vito Priante, Mytro Papatanasiou, Karina Gauvin, Kenneth Tarver, Christina Gensch, Guido Loconsolo, Mika Kares
Sony Classical 88985316032 (3 CDs)
This is the final installment in Teodor Currentzis’ recordings of the Mozart-da Ponte operas with his Musica Aeterna orchestra and chorus from the Perm Opera House. As with its predecessors in the series, Currentzis’ Don Giovanni is characterized by meticulous precision (the extensive recitatives have been planned and studied down to the second with maximum exactitude). The deliberate changes in vibrato (especially with the Donna Anna and Zerlina), the coloratura in the repetition of certain parts of arias, and the strong dynamic effects have all been carefully thought out. Admittedly, it leaves no room for improvisation or interpretive freedom with either singers or musicians, and yet Currentzis’ approach never comes across as academic. There is great energy and drama here, and the listener experiences individuals with powerful emotional lives instead of singing characters. As is typical with the Maestro, there is vigorous playing from strings, brass, and drums (what the reviewer describes as “hard rock classical”), all of it at a very brisk pace, but none of it ever degenerates into merely a loud, fast account of Mozart’s partitur. Though the soloists have fully absorbed the conductor’s intensity and performance style, their vocal quality at times leaves something to be desired. Myrto Papatanasiou brings a polished soprano to Donna Anna and Karina Gauvin lends colorful tone to Donna Elvira, yet both of their voices (and particularly Gauvin’s) have a tendency to spread unattractively in the upper register, lessening the impact of interpretations that otherwise are worth hearing. Kenneth Tarver’s Don Ottavio displays secure coloratura and an attractive sound when singing softly, but at forte, his tenor is often overtaxed; one clearly hears how difficult this role is. Both Dimitris Tiliakos (Don Giovanni) and Vito Priante (Leporello) have very beautiful voices and plenty of expressive flexibility that enables them to cope successfully with Currentzis’ rapid tempos. However, they sound so similar that it’s often difficult to tell them apart. (I suppose this does lend a certain credibility to their impersonations of each other in the second act.) Guido Loconsolo has such a striking timbre that it elevates Masetto to the status of another principal; Christina Gensch makes an appealing Zerlina with her well-schooled, attractive soprano; and Mika Kares offers a flawless Commendatore.

CROSSOVER

Jonas Kaufmann: “Dolce Vita”
Conductor/orchestra: Asher Fisch, Orchestra of the Teatro Massimo di Palermo
Sony 88875183632 (1 CD)
The star tenor’s enthusiasm for all things Italian (well, most things) extends beyond his appearances in the operas of Verdi, Puccini, and the verismo composers to encompass the nation’s popular music. His latest solo album includes 18 of these songs, from Leoncavallo’s “Mattinata” to the 1950s hit “Volare” and Nino Rota’s “Speak Softly, Love” from the film The Godfather – though sung here in the Italian translation “Parla più piano.” His pronunciation is idiomatic, he conveys these songs’ emotions without sounding schmaltzy or phony, and in this respect knows when the line cannot be crossed.

- Daniel Behle: “Mein Hamburg”
With the Schnyder Trio
Berlin Classics 0300826BC (1 CD)
The tenor pays homage to his hometown with this curious disc of sailors’ songs that he’s adapted or for which he’s prepared new arrangements. In one instance, he’s written his own verses for the song “Klaus Störtebecker” and set them to the melody of Chapelou’s aria, “Mes amis, écoutez l'histoire” from Adolphe Adam’s Le postillon de Longjumeau; in another, he’s composed his own song for the St. Pauli football team. However, his decision to include the aria “Komm in die Gondel” from Johann Strauss the Younger’s operetta Eine Nacht in Venedig is puzzling, to say the least. While Venice is certainly a city that sits on the water, it has nothing whatever to do with Hamburg. Behle sings all of this material well and very tastefully, and has proven partners in the Schnyder Trio (violin, cello, and piano) with whom he has often collaborated. But the tenor’s vision of his native city may be a hard sell even with residents of Hamburg, and there’s no telling how those from other locales may react to it.

- Håkon Kornstad: “Tenor Battle”
Jazzland 475-711-4 (1 CD)
Well, this certainly is different. Håkon Kornstad has made a career as a jazz saxophonist, not a tenor, and his recording makes reference to a 1950s ritual when players of this instrument would engage in loud, breakneck-paced duels with each other. Kornstad has recently discovered his own tenor voice, and uses it here to perform arias and Lieder while accompanied by a band comprised of harmonium, harpsichord, bass, and percussion. According to the reviewer, he creates “the most interesting micro-scenes” in a variety of moods. The arrangements are all constructed in a similar pattern, with an extended saxophone introduction followed by Kornstad’s vocal interpretation, and then another instrumental segment with a very intimate, improvisational style. Admittedly, his singing isn’t “the crowning of tenorial vocal art,” as the critic phrases it, especially in Massenet’s “En fermant les yeux” and Bizet’s “Je crois entendre encore” – but then, one doesn’t expect it to be. In fact, an operatic treatment would be inappropriate in this context. Kornstad’s uneven vocal production and not exactly flawless phrasing underscore the intimate street music effect of these arrangements and give the recording a distinctive charm.

- Laszlo: “Herzenschlag” (Heartbeat)
Warner 5059197094224 (1 CD)
From 2007 until 2013, Laszlo Maleczky was a member of the young pop tenor group Adoro, which remains Germany’s most commercially successful classical (I use the term very, very loosely) vocal ensemble. The contents of this album suggest what’s in store for the listener – songs by the likes of Robbie Williams and Miley Cyrus sung in German translation and with arrangements reminiscent of film music. I can’t imagine anyone outside of the German-speaking countries having any interest in it; in fact, I can’t imagine any serious opera enthusiasts in those nations having any interest in it, either.

Clayton
November 4th, 2016, 12:21 PM
Nicolai ordered but I have to wait until release date 2nd December...

Soave_Fanciulla
November 4th, 2016, 06:01 PM
- Pluhar: Orfeo Chamán
Conductor: Christina Pluhar
Directors: Rolf and Heidi Abderhalden
Cast: Nahuel Pennisi, Luciana Mancini, Vincenzo Caprezzuto, Emiliano Gonzales Toro
Warner/Erato 0190295969691 (1 CD; 1 bonus DVD)

BUY BUY BUY if you like Baroque, Latin America music, plangent tenors, and jungles

MAuer
November 8th, 2016, 12:18 PM
A number of the recordings reviewed in the November, 2016, issue of Opernwelt (http://www.opernwelt.de/) were also critiqued in recent issues of Das Opernglas – and in several instances, the reviewers’ opinions are at considerable variance. Proving once again, I suppose, that there’s no arguing with taste . . .

RECOMMENDED

- Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro
Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Cast: Luca Pisaroni, Christiane Karg, Thomas Hampson, Sonya Yoncheva, Angela Brower, Maurizio Muraro, Anne Sofie von Otter, Philippe Sly, Regula Mühlemann, Rolando Villazón, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt
Deutsche Grammophon 4795945 (3 CDs)
I’ve included this among the recommended recordings, though the reviewer seems to be damning it with faint praise. As he states near the beginning of his comments, “(There is) much (that’s) good, little (that’s) new, hardly anything outstanding.” Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe are credited with producing a “vital, nervous Mozart tone,” but taken as a whole, their interpretation doesn’t come across as round and organically developed. The orchestral high points seem to come in intimate moments, when individual instruments unite with the singers’ voices in chamber music fashion. I’m puzzled by the reviewer’s claim that the orchestra’s sound is sharper and more pointed than those of ensembles playing old instruments, since his counterpart at Das Opernglas indicated that the Chamber Orchestra of Europe uses precisely such instruments – or am I misunderstanding that person’s meaning of “historical?” Among the soloists, Thomas Hampson gets kudos for his nuanced portrayal of Count Almaviva, described as a combination of “maturity and impetuosity, matter-of-course and comprehension.” Luca Pisaroni is a youthful, carefree, but not really striking Figaro; Christiane Karg’s Susanna is elegant rather than clever and pert. On the other hand, Angela Brower makes an entirely credible rapturous teenager as Cherubino, and there is a fresh, vulnerable Countess lost in her thoughts from Sonya Yoncheva. Anne-Sophie von Otter’s Marcellina and Rolando Villazón’s comical Don Basilio are unobjectionable, but there’s nothing really unmistakable about their portrayals, either. What may be of interest to those considering purchasing this recording is that the opera is performed in its entirety, without any cuts.

- Meyerbeer: Dinorah
Conductor: Enrique Mazzola
Cast: Patrizia Ciofi, Etienne Dupuis, Philippe Talbot, Seth Carrico, Elebenita Kajtazi, Gideon Poppe, Christina Sidak, et. al.
cpo 555 014-2 (2 CDs)
This concert performance in 2014 at the Berlin Philharmonic marked the start of the Deutsche Oper Berlin’s Meyerbeer series that included a staging of his “monumental” Vasco da Gama (original version of L’Africaine). Dinorah was one of the composer’s rare excursions into Opéra-comique territory, though that designation may refer more to the inclusion of spoken dialogue rather than anything particularly humorous in the plot. Well, yes, there is the heroine’s pet goat that she’s pursuing all over the countryside in Act II, but what happens to the poor girl over the course of the opera really isn’t funny. First, her bridegroom Hoël disappears during a thunderstorm on their wedding day and isn’t seen for another year. That’s because he’s too busy hunting for buried treasure with his pal Corentin. Meanwhile, Dinorah has gone mad, and when she’s chasing after the goat, trips on a log and tumbles into the river, where she’s swept away by the current. Fortunately, Hoël has seen the incident and leaps to her rescue; she regains consciousness, recovers her sanity, and forgives him. The opera concludes with the couple heading to the chapel to be married. This new recording has much to recommend it, beginning with Patrizia Ciofi’s heroine. The reviewer describes her as a bel canto soprano whose stylistically accurate singing technique has somehow never made her a genuine star; here, her very finely focused, slightly dry voice may place her at a bit of a disadvantage compared to “warbling” predecessors on disc such as Luciana Serra, but in compensation, she does a much better job of capturing this figure’s romantic ambiguity. There are admirable contributions from baritone Etienne Dupuis (Hoël) and tenor Philippe Talbot (Corentin), who fully realize the French spirit of this work, performed here in the original version’s new critical edition. There is also a stellar turn from Seth Carico in the small role of the Hunter. Enrique Mazzola, who would later conduct the DOB’s performances of Vasco da Gama, seems to be in Meyerbeer warm-up mode during this concert. If his tempos are occasionally a little ponderous, things pick up when the Chorus, prepared by William Spaulding, gets involved.

- Zdenék Fibich: Die Braut von Messina (The Bride of Messina)
Conductor: Kimbo Ishii
Cast: Lucia Crevoni, Thomas Florio, Richard Samek, Noa Danon, Martin-Jan Nijhof, Manfred Wulfert, et. al.
cpo 7 61203 79812 4 (2 CDs)
Much of this review is devoted to background information on the composer and a brief synopsis of Otakar Hostinký’s libretto (based on Schiller) in which two brothers – sons of the Princess of Messina – fall in love with the same woman, who turns out to be their unknown sister, sent away at an early age to a convent in the hopes of foiling a family curse. (It doesn’t work.) In this live 2015 performance from the Magdeburg Theater, conductor Kimbo Ishii, the Magdeburg Philharmonic, and soloists deliver an account of Fibich’s opera worthy of a major house. The orchestra and Maestro Ishii make a persuasive case with their engaged playing, capturing the colorful, richly-faceted Late Romantic quality of the score in which a Wagnerian influence is evident, but Leitmotifs are used rather sparingly. The standout among the fine cast is Lucia Crevoni, who uses her strongly expressive mezzo to create a memorable portrayal of Princess Isabella, passionately committed to keeping her family together. Likewise excellent are baritone Thomas Florio and tenor Richard Samek as the rival brothers Don Manuel and Don César, respectively, and soprano Noa Danon as their unknown sister Béatrice. There is also a noteworthy contribution from bass-baritone Martin-Jan Nijhof in the minor role of Kajetan.

- Leoncavallo: Zazà
Conductor: Maurizio Benini
Cast: Ermonela Jaho, Riccardo Massi, Stephen Gaertner, Patricia Bardon, David Stout, et. al.
Opera Rara ORC55 (2 CDs)
When it premiered in 1900, the final year of the 19th century, Zazà was a groundbreaking work in a couple of respects. The opera’s events were set in the present day, something Puccini first attempted several years later with his own “social drama” Il Tabarro. The heroine, a starlet at a provincial Varieté theater, is involved in a love affair with the Parisian businessman Milio Dufresne – whom she subsequently discovers has a wife and child back at home in the capital city. She decides to break off the affair after meeting Milio’s little daughter Totò and realizing she doesn’t want to condemn the girl to growing up with a single mother who is a rather unsympathetic alcoholic, to boot -- at the turn of the 20th century, this likely would have meant a life of dire poverty. But unlike other operatic “fallen women” – Violetta, Manon, Mimi – she doesn’t suffer a fatal illness or die of exhaustion in punishment/expiation for her “immoral” lifestyle, something that would have been a hard pill for Victorians to swallow. Nonetheless, Zazà enjoyed considerable popularity prior to the Second World War, and for good reason. Leoncavallo had a very fine sense for balancing fast-paced ensembles with lyrical, intimate moments, and he was an effective tear-jerker, too (as was Puccini). It’s uncertain why this opera has been pretty well forgotten since the second half of the 20th century. The very traditional writing style of the libretto attributed to Leoncavallo but probably penned by Carlo Zangarini? The too-obvious influence of Wagner and Verdi’s Falstaff in the “brilliant” orchestration? In any case, this new studio recording from Opera Rara makes a convincing argument for the work. Using the slightly tightened-up revised version from 1919, Maurizio Benini draws out all the wealth of color in the partitur with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and avoids any hint of the sort of kitsch that’s often labeled “verismo” – a clear contrast to the only other existing recording, a melancholy yet “bloodless” studio production from 2002 with Lisa Houben in the title role of the 1900 Urfassung. Admittedly, the soloists here capture only part of Benini’s springy conversational tone. Soprano Ermonela Jaho is an enchanting Zazà with her warm, freely flowing midrange and impressive, finely applied piani in the upper register. However, she frequently attacks high notes with a “vibratissimo” that rubs against her vocal chords and the listener’s nerves. Tenor Riccardo Massi is a very precise, if somewhat monochromatic Milio, though Patricia Bardon, with her “rustic” vocal production, is less convincing as Zazà’s mother Anaïde, as is Stephen Gaertner as Zazà’s former lover Cascart. Nonetheless, the reviewer says this stands as a reference recording for the opera, and whets the appetite for more of Leoncavallo’s music dramas beyond I Pagliacci.

- Inge Borkh/Ljuba Welitsch: The Decca Recitals
Conductors: Rudolf Moralt (both singers), Josef Krips (Borkh)
Arias by Dvořak, Gluck, Mascagni, Verdi, Debussy, Giordano, Cilea, Weber, Beethoven, and R. Strauss (Borkh); arias by Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Lehár, Millöcker, and Sieczyinski (Welitsch)
Decca Eloquence 482 0280 (2 CDs)
Inge Borkh was among the leading interpreters of the dramatic roles of Richard Strauss in the 1950s and ‘60s, but was also in demand internationally in the Italian repertoire, especially as Lady Macbeth and Tosca. The three recitals in this set on Decca’s Eloquence label find her in the prime of her career when she was practically the ideal of a jugendlich-dramatische soprano. Whether as Rusalka, Verdi’s heroines, or Salome, she shapes her portrayals with many intimate, almost delicate nuances. The two-disc set is filled out with a few recording excerpts by Ljuba Welitsch, another outstanding Salome of the period. Here, however, she’s heard in arias from Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame and Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera (sung in German translation) along with some operetta selections – described by the reviewer as “emotional, glowing, high-spirited, and sensual.”

- “Hilde Güden Sings Operetta”
Conductor/orchestra: Horst Stein, Vienna Philharmonic (for two opera arias)
Includes arias from Die tote Stadt and Louise; operetta arias by Johann Strauss the Younger, Leo Fall, Franz Lehár, Oscar Straus, and Emmerich Kálmán
Decca Eloquence 482 0656 (2 CDs)
During the postwar period, Hilde Güden was one of the top lyric sopranos on Decca’s roster, recording roles in operas by Mozart and the Italian composers as well as many operettas. This two-disc compilation issued on the Eloquence label fills more than two hours and includes some real finds among the selections. When Güden recorded the first recital in 1949, her voice possessed a silvery gleam and the charm of one of Arthur Schnitzler’s “fragrant” (which I take to mean sweet, with perhaps a touch of spice) Viennese girls. On the other hand, even in her mature years, she lacked the frivolity and “erotic aggression” for the roles of Madame Pompadour and Giuditta that predecessors such as Fritzi Massary and Jarmila Ksírová exuded. Added as bonus tracks on this set are her final recordings from 1969 of arias from Korngold’s Die tote Stadt and Charpentier’s Louise, where professional experience had to replace the lost sheen in her voice.

- “Serenata Tebaldi”
Renata Tebaldi (soprano); Giorgio Favaretti and Richard Bonynge (pianists)
Arias and songs by Handel, Scarlatti, Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi, Ponchielli, Puccini, Mascagni, Martucci, Tosti, and others
Decca Eloquence 480 5381 (2 CDs)
Here is another compilation of excerpts from the Decca archives which has been reissued on its Eloquence label. This one contains two recitals from different periods in Renata Tebaldi’s career, with almost two decades between them. The first, from 1954 in Rome, finds her at the height of her vocal powers; her soprano has its full, youthful gleam and an opulent midrange, but was already a little “short” on top. She’s unquestionably the opera diva in these selections by Italian composers as well as Handel and Mozart, but is still able to find a personal and sometimes intimate – as in Tosti’s folksong “A Vucchella” – quality. In contrast, she’s probably past her best in the 1972 London recital, where she receives sparkling, relaxed accompaniment from Richard Bonynge at the keyboard. Her voice has grown darker and shows some wear and tear in the upper register, but her interpretations are as gripping as ever.

- Ian Bostridge: “Shakespeare Songs”
With Sir Antonio Pappano (pianist), Elizabeth Kenny (lutist), Adam Walker (flautist), Michael Collins (clarinetist), and Lawrence Power (violist)
Warner 0825646106639 (1 CD)
This very thoughtful program of songs set to Shakespeare’s texts developed by Ian Bostridge in collaboration with Sir Tony Pappano has been selected as this issue’s CD of the Month – and the reviewer predicts it may well end up being chosen as the Lied recording of the year. The composers represented here range from the Bard’s contemporaries William Byrd, Thomas Morley, and Robert Johnson up to the 20th century’s Poulenc, Britten, and Stravinsky. It’s recommended that, rather than listening to all 29 songs in the order they’re contained on the disc, one should take time to compare the ways different composers treated the same texts. In this manner, one can hear how the function and character of the verses changed over time. In the older settings, the stage figures step out of their roles and sing to the audience; in later arrangements, there is more of an objectivizing, lifting of the verses out of the context of the drama’s plot and transforming them into an art song with broader applicability. While Robert Johnson sets “Full fathom five” from The Tempest in a creeping, menacing atmosphere, Tippett with his nihilism goes much further, and Stravinsky even gives his treatment of the text a surrealistic character. “Tell me where is Fancy bred” from The Merchant of Venice receives something approaching the charm of a folksong in the hands of Poulenc, whereas Britten favors an aggressive, almost driven style. Haydn is the only composer represented by “She never told her love” from Twelfth Night. Here, little shifts in harmonic patterns in the “meaningful, pointed” piano accompaniment capture entire worlds in themselves, while the vocal line requires the singer to manage ascents into the high midrange and beyond almost incidentally. Bostridge masters all of this material with textbook-perfect technique, his vocal production calm, supple, and balanced. If many of his earlier Lied interpretations were what the reviewer calls a “psychogram of the lyrical ego,” the tenor approaches these selections in a freer, more delicate fashion. Sir Tony is as virtuosic, animated, and “symbiotic” a partner at the keyboard as he is on the podium, while in a few of the songs, Elizabeth Kenny conjures a wonderfully intimate mood with her lute. In the Stravinsky, Bostridge is joined by flautist Adam Walker, clarinetist Michael Collins, and violist Lawrence Power, who clearly relish this music.

- Egils Silins: Latvian Songs
With Maris Skuja (pianist)
Accolade LMIC/SKANI 045 (1 CD)
Along with conductors Mariss Jansons and Andris Nelsons, soprano Kristine Opolais, mezzo Elīna Garanča, and violinist Baiba Skribe, Heldenbariton Egils Silins is among the best known Latvian classical artists in the world today. At home in the major international opera houses as Wotan, the Dutchman, and Boris Godunov, Silins is also a noted Lied recitalist in his homeland, as this live recording of a concert on 31 October 2015 at the Dziatari Concert Hall documents. (He also made a studio recording with similar material on a small regional label in 2003, but it’s no longer available.) These songs are likely to be unfamiliar to listeners outside the Baltic countries, but belong to the repertoire of every Latvian singer. At the turn of the 20th century, such pieces played a significant role in the search for a national culture and language in a country long under German domination. Many of them were composed by Emils Darzins (1875-1910), who studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and Jazyns Vitols (1863-1948), who served as conductor of the National Opera and founded the Riga Conservatory after Latvia gained independence in 1918. Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s the St. Petersburg tradition that’s most in evidence in these pieces. The live setting (as opposed to a studio) lends a special intensity to Silins’ performance in both articulation and vocal shaping of the songs, and allows his substantial, more dramatic than lyric bass-baritone to fully unfold. This is a remarkable recording and a strong argument for the diversity of European culture.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Beethoven: Fidelio
Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst
Director: Claus Guth
Cast: Adrianne Pieczonka, Jonas Kaufmann, Tomasz Konieczny, Hans-Peter König, Olga Bezsmertna, Norbert Ernst, et. al.
Sony 88875193519 (1 DVD)
The big minus in this Fidelio from the 2015 Salzburg Festival is Claus Guth’s production, with a concept that scraps the dialogue in favor of miscellaneous sounds and assigns (intrusive) doubles to Leonore and Pizarro in order to create a “salon of the subconscious” – and in the process, sorely tries the viewer’s patience. On the podium of the Vienna Philharmonic, Franz Welser-Möst does his best to inject some vitality and drama into Guth’s shadow world, but is only partially successful. He guides musicians and singers through Beethoven’s score in a thoughtful, considered manner and really turns the orchestra loose in the Leonore Overture no. 3 – though the inclusion of this piece seems “doubly unclear” from a dramaturgical standpoint. The cast is “moderately outstanding,” with Jonas Kaufmann’s Florestan likely the reason for Sony’s decision to release this video. In comparison to the tenor’s earlier recordings of the role with Harnoncourt in Zürich (DVD) and Abbado in Lucerne (CD), his voice here doesn’t sound sufficiently free and flexible, though Kaufmann is completely engaged in Guth’s view of Florestan as a traumatized emotional wreck. Adrianne Pieczonka gives a very pleasing portrayal of Leonore with her unforced, lyrical singing. In this staging, none of the other soloists has an opportunity to compensate for vocal deficits with good theatrical skills.

- Beethoven: Fidelio
Conductor: Lorin Maazel
Cast: Eva Marton, James King, Theo Adam, Aage Haugland, Lilian Watson, Thomas Moser, Tom Krause, Horst Hiestermann, Kurt Rydl
Orfeo C 908 1521 (2 CDs)
This performance of Beethoven’s opera from the 1984 Festival also wasn’t among the most distinguished of Salzburg’s presentations of the work, either for its musical quality or Leopold Lindtberg’s staging. Why the Orfeo label has chosen to release this audio recording now is unclear. The reviewer suggests it may have been related to the 85th birthday of the recently deceased Lorin Maazel, but then notes that the conductor had led a much more convincing account of Fidelio with the Vienna Philharmonic for Decca 20 years earlier. Here his interest seems primarily focused on the third Leonore Overture. Among the soloists, there are no performances that go beyond average. Eva Marton (Leonore) sings well, but struggles with German pronunciation, especially in the spoken dialogue. James King (Florestan) and Theo Adam (Pizarro) had plenty of experience in their roles by this time, but were past their prime vocally. Aage Haugland (Rocco), Lilian Watson (Marzelline), and Thomas Moser (Jaquino) give solid portrayals, but lack any sort of individual profile.

- Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana/Leoncavallo: I Pagliacci
Conductors: Franco Ghione (Cavalleria Rusticana); Alberto Erede (I Pagliacci)
Casts: Mario del Monaco, Elena Nicolai, Annamaria Anelli, Aldo Protti, Laura Didier (Cavalleria Rusticana); Mario del Monaco, Clara Petrella, Afro Polli, Aldo Protti, Piero de Palma (I Pagliacci)
Decca Eloquence 480 7268
This monaural recording from the 1950s has now been reissued in CD format on Decca’s Eloquence label. Although recordings made with this technology were pushed aside in Decca’s catalog as soon as stereo became available, these “pioneers” still retain a certain collectors’ value today as they document stars of the later stereo era early in their careers when they worked alongside established singers of the Gigli generation. In this “Cav and Pag,” however, it’s the veterans who make the stronger impression. Mario del Monaco in the two leading tenor roles sings at a constant forte (especially Turiddu). Elena Nicolai makes a passionate, but never lachrymose Santuzza, and Claudia Petrella portrays Nedda as a full-blooded woman and no soubrette. Afro Polli is a threatening, “animalistic” Tonio. The conducting of Franco Ghione (Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro alla Scala) and Alberto Erede (Orchestra and Chorus of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia) never goes beyond routine.

- Pavol Breslik: “Mozart”
Opera and concert arias
With José van Dam (bass-baritone)
Conductor/orchestra: Patrick Lange, Munich Radio Orchestra
Orfeo C 889161 A (1 CD)
Although the tenor’s voice has gained in weight and taken him into more dramatic repertoire, he still returns to Mozart from time to time. In this recital album, he is heard in this composer’s roles with which he has been most closely associated during his career -- both Idamante and Idomeneo, Belmonte, Tamino (including the scene with the Temple Speaker, sung here by no less than José van Dam), and Ferrando, though he’s now left the last-named behind him – along with the concert aria, “Misero! O sogno!” (KV 431). On the whole, he leaves a mixed impression. He produces a rounded, clear tone, beautiful piani, and occasionally a fine voix-mixte. He strives to create individual characters with their own distinctive sound, but the dialectic between characterization and vocal individuality doesn’t always result in a vocal personality of his own; he often seems oddly neutral. The reviewer finds that Breslik seldom sings “sul fiato” – on the breath – and his passaggio sounds too broad; in addition, high notes are not melded with the vocal line, but seem “chiseled out.” Whether one will consider all of this ideal Mozart singing remains a matter of taste.

- Anna Netrebko: “Verismo”
Conductor/orchestra: Sir Antonio Pappano, Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome
With Yusif Eyvazov (tenor)
Selections from operas by Puccini, Giordano, Leoncavallo, Cilea, Catalani, Ponchielli, and Boito
Deutsche Grammophon 479 5015 (1 CD)
The reviewer must first quibble about whether or not Boito and Ponchielli were really among the verismo composers or rather anticipated their style, and observes that Puccini (who is substantially represented in Anna Netrebko’s latest recital CD) had little in common with literary Italian verismo. In any case, operas based on that literature are characterized by a depiction of “real life” (my quotation marks) driven by strong emotions, with violence, sex, mental cruelty, sadism, and the like – all of which can lead singers into bad vocal habits and overacting with sobs and sighs. La Bellissima avoids these pitfalls, though she can’t entirely escape the limitations imposed by the “synthetic” product of a studio recording – i.e., arias taken out of their dramatic context. As a whole, this album produces mixed results. There is an exemplary rendition of Cio-Cio-San’s “Un bel di” that’s touching in its simplicity, with the soprano’s rich, “buttery” tone securely melding chest resonance with a wide midrange and lilting top, and successfully employing piano effects as the basis of her characterization. Only the “wandering” high B at the end hints about her limits in the dramatic repertoire. She clearly exceeds those limits, as indicated by wavering acuti, in “La mamma morta” from Andrea Chénier and especially in Turandot’s “In questa reggia,” a role the reviewer believes she will probably never sing onstage. Under the close-up scrutiny of the recording microphone, a vibrato that occasionally interferes with correct intonation becomes evident. In Liù’s aria (I think the reference may be to “Signore, ascolta”), her soprano lacks the trimness of young lyrical voices in the ascending phrases sung mezzaforte, and in the first part, her vocal chords “flicker.” However, her management of the impressive octave leaps in the second part once again evinces great vocal discipline. Her account of “L’altra notte” from Boito’s Mefistofele is quite successful, but the reviewer adds that it doesn’t have the stirring quality of Callas’ version or the striking character of Claudia Muzio’s 1935 recording. The difference is in the singers’ treatment of the text. Netrebko emphasizes dynamics and the color of the vocal line, while Callas develops her sound based on the meaning of the words. In the complete fourth act of Manon Lescaut, the Russian diva is joined by her husband, Yusif Eyvazov, with his “earthy” tenor as Des Grieux – described by the critic as “devastation without transcendence.” A plus in all of these selections is the presence of Sir Tony Pappano on the podium of his Orchestra of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

- Fernando Corena: Mozart Arias for Bass
Conductors: Alberto Erede, Peter Maag, Argeo Quadri
Arias from Le Nozzi di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosi fan tutte, and Die Zauberflöte; selected concert arias
Decca Eloquence 482 0288 (1 CD)
Fernando Corena was a leading basso comico of the mid-20th century, especially noted for his portrayal of Leporello. Early in his career, however, he also sang serious bass roles, which one hears in the first (1952) of the three Mozart recitals included on this compilation from Decca/Eloquence. He is heard in parts extending from Sarastro to Figaro and Guglielmo, singing with a voice that’s striking and robust, but not very flexible. In the 1960 recording of Mozart concert arias, the lack of suppleness and agility is evident. It’s unfortunate there are no video releases of Corena available, where his strong stage presence could have counterbalanced any vocal deficits with this “extraordinary” singer-comedian.

- Anne Cambier: Mozart/Haydn Lieder
With Jan Vermeulen (Fortepiano)
Etcetera KTC 1542 (1 CD)
As a soloist with such HIP ensembles as Les Arts Florissants, Antiqua Köln, and the Academy of Ancient Music, the Belgian soprano Anne Cambier belongs to the inner circle of Early Music specialists. Possessing a not-too-large, slender, bell-like voice, she sings the 13 Mozart songs on this disc with a fresh, direct, balanced tone. She’s happy and carefree in “Un moto di gioia,” twitters delightfully in “Oiseaux, si tous les ans,” and her rendition of “Abendempfindung” is not disturbed by the slightest premonition of death. What’s heard on this disc from Cambier, supported by Jan Vermeulen on the Fortepiano, is a historically informed interpretation without any deeper understanding of the text. Not only with “Veilchen,” a setting of verses by Goethe, is it difficult to follow the words, much less grasp their meaning. When a singer relies entirely on pure, authentic vocal production, the songs are reduced to vocalises. That was not such an infrequent occurrence in the past, but today, a Lied interpreter needs to move beyond such an approach. Five of the seven Haydn songs included on this album had been recorded previously by Cambier.

- “Lisa Della Casa in Recital”
Conductor/orchestra: Karl Böhm, Vienna Philharmonic
Pianist: Karl Böhm
Lieder by Schubert, Brahms, Wolf, and R. Strauss
Decca Eloquence 482 0276 (1 CD)
As part of Decca’s artist roster in the mid-20th century, the Swiss soprano was systematically positioned by the label’s management as their counterpart to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf at EMI as an interpreter of operatic roles by Mozart and Strauss as well as Lieder. Della Casa possessed neither the refinement of Schwarzkopf nor the warmth of Elisabeth Grümmer, but did offer a crystal-clear voice of beguiling charm. Her 1953 recording of Strauss’ Vier letzte Lieder that’s included on this Eloquence reissue is focused on tonal beauty and does little with the text; the same is true for the songs by Schubert, Brahms, and Wolf with piano accompaniment that she recorded in 1956.

CROSSOVER

- “Siepi and London on Broadway”
Cesare Siepi (bass), George London (baritone), and the Robert Shaw Orchestra
Songs by Porter, Loewe, Rodgers, Weill, and Kern
Decca Eloquence 402 0120 (1 CD)
In their generation, Cesare Siepi and George London were among the world’s best interpreters of the role of Don Giovanni, and appeared together at the Met in Le Nozze di Figaro as the titular bridegroom and his employer, Count Almaviva. Both were also at home in American musicals, with Siepi even singing in two Broadway productions. Since their recordings of material from this genre came onto the market almost simultaneously, Decca has combined both on a single CD and reissued them on the Eloquence label. Siepi is captivating in Cole Porter songs with his seductive basso cantante and very idiomatic style; London proves himself a versatile singing actor in selections from such hit musicals as My Fair Lady, Oklahoma!, and Showboat.

Ann Lander (sospiro)
November 9th, 2016, 07:27 AM
- Fernando Corena: Mozart Arias for Bass
Conductors: Alberto Erede, Peter Maag, Argeo Quadri
Arias from Le Nozzi di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosi fan tutte, and Die Zauberflöte; selected concert arias
Decca Eloquence 482 0288 (1 CD)
Fernando Corena was a leading basso comico of the mid-20th century, especially noted for his portrayal of Leporello. Early in his career, however, he also sang serious bass roles, which one hears in the first (1952) of the three Mozart recitals included on this compilation from Decca/Eloquence. He is heard in parts extending from Sarastro to Figaro and Guglielmo, singing with a voice that’s striking and robust, but not very flexible. In the 1960 recording of Mozart concert arias, the lack of suppleness and agility is evident. It’s unfortunate there are no video releases of Corena available, where his strong stage presence could have counterbalanced any vocal deficits with this “extraordinary” singer-comedian.

Nice!

MAuer
December 7th, 2016, 06:40 PM
Summary of reviews from the December, 2016, issue of Opernwelt (http://www.opernwelt.de/):

RECOMMENDED

- Berg: Wozzeck
Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Director: Andreas Homoki
Cast: Christian Gerhaher, Gun-Brit Barkmin, Brandon Jovanovich, Lars Woldt, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Mauro Peter, et. al.
Accentus ACC 20363 (1 DVD)
This late 2015 performance from the Zürich Opera is hailed by the reviewer as a “reference production” of Berg’s opera. The staging by Andreas Homoki (Zürich’s Intendant) avoids any sort of sentimentality in its treatment of the “arme Leut’” (what might be translated as poor or unfortunate people) like Wozzeck and Marie. Instead, he presents the whole as a macabre puppet show along the lines of “Punch and Judy,” with its flesh-and-blood figures appearing as grotesque marionettes. At the same time, a certain distance is preserved that makes it clear the soloists are not themselves the characters they portray. Baritone Christian Gerhaher was chosen as Opernwelt’s 2016 Singer of the Year largely on the strength of his “magnificent” assumption of the title role. Soprano Gun-Brit Barkmin is an expressive, exaggeratedly slatternly Marie, while all of the other cast members sing and act at a very high level. They are matched by the outstanding conductor Fabio Luisi and the Zürich Philharmonia.

- Bellini: I Capuleti e i Montecchi
Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Director: Christof Loy
Cast: Olga Kulchynska, Joyce Di Donato, Benjamin Bernheim, Roberto Lorenzi, Alexei Botmarcuic, et. al.
Accentus ACC 20353 (1 DVD)
Another 2015 production from Zürich with the house’s General Music Director Fabio Luisi on the podium, this performance also wins the reviewer’s approval, even if less emphatically than the Wozzeck video does. Regisseur Christof Loy’s staging places all of the action within the Capulets’ palace and its cold, white rooms, and there’s a definite suggestion that Giulietta has been traumatized by incestuous abuse suffered at the hands of her father. Loy has also introduced class differences as another divide between the feuding families, with the Montagues clearly coming from a lower social stratum than the Capulets. Soprano Olga Kulchynska is a burningly intense Giulietta, but her virtuosity is never merely superficial. Joyce Di Donato is a Romeo vocally and dramatically full of zest, and to a certain degree the “powerhouse” of the production. However, her portrayal strikes the reviewer as having too much of the soap opera about it, with an emotional sentimentality that never really moves the viewer. Among the other cast members, tenor Benjamin Bernheim’s sensitive Tebaldo is the standout. All of those onstage receive excellent support from Maestro Luisi with his sensitive feel for the fine balance and “steady pulse” of Bellini’s score.

- Regula Mühlemann: Mozart Arias
Conductor/orchestra: Umberto Benedetti Michelangeli, Basel Chamber Orchestra
Sony 8985337582 (1 CD)
The Swiss soprano wins a rave review for her debut album of Mozart arias, which has been selected as the December issue’s CD of the Month. She presents a varied program that generally avoids the familiar pieces and includes some selections the composer wrote for an opera’s “seconda donna.” The reviewer notes that a hallmark of the “extravagant richness” of Mozart’s genius was the wonderful music he provided for even minor characters in his music theater dramas, such as Servilia’s “S’altro che lagrime” from La Clemenza di Tito. In fact, that aria is probably one of the highlights of this late work, and Ms. Mühlemann makes the most of it with her warm, beautiful voice. She also finds just the right mournful, sighing tone for Sandrina’s “Geme la tortorella” from La finta giardiniera, in which she’s ably partnered by conductor Umberto Benedetti Michelangeli and the historic performance-oriented Basel Chamber Orchestra. In Blonde’s “Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln” from Die Entführung aus dem Serail, she joins fluent coloratura and play with tonal colors to a rarely heard precision and clarity in the articulation of the text. She shows herself at home in the seria style with a “spotlessly clean” account of Clelia’s “Strider sento la procella” from Lucio Silla and the sacred motet Exsultate, Jubilate, and charmingly conveys the comic vacillation between devotion and rejection in the “insertion” aria “Voi avete un cor fedele” (KV 217). Three of the selections on this disc were composed for Mozart’s sister-in-law Aloysia Weber Lange – “Schon lacht der holde Frühling” (KV 580), “Da schlägt die Abschiedsstunde” from Der Schauspieldirektor, and the insertion aria “Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio!” (KV 418) – and demand an “enormously wide spectrum” of technical ability. Ms. Mühlemann effortlessly masters the coloratura passages, takes time for the inclusion of “countless” nuances, and impresses with the emotional warmth of her interpretation. In only a very few instances does the soprano come up against her limits. In the aforementioned “Vorrei spiegarvi,” the ascent into the stratospheric heights costs her some effort, and in the very low notes Mozart sometimes wrote even for sopranos, her voice can sound a little thin. But these are marginal considerations that do nothing to diminish the overall quality of this recording.

- Franco Fagioli: Rossini
Conductor/orchestra: George Petrou, Armonia Atenea
Deutsche Grammophon 479 5681 (1 CD)
Countertenor Franco Fagioli is a “stage animal” to whom it matters little whether he’s facing a single recording microphone or an opera house audience of over a thousand. On his latest album, his theatrical instincts enliven his renditions of arias that Rossini actually composed for mezzo sopranos in breeches roles, but which the reviewer finds suit his voice superbly. The enormous range that allows his voice to soar freely in the upper reaches and lets him play with a tenorial sound in low-lying passages, the rapid, delicate vibrato, the gentle, rounded timbre, and substantive vocal production all create the impression that Mr. Fagioli really has no limits. In all of these selections, one hears not only virtuosity, but also the technically sound shaping of a character. The high point is Arsace’s “Eccomi alfine in Babilonia,” which makes the listener want to press the repeat button again and again. He receives fine support from conductor George Petrou and his HIP ensemble Armonia Atenea.

- Philippe Jaroussky: Bach – Telemann
With the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and oboist Ann-Kathrin Brüggemann
Warner/Erato 0825646491599 (I CD)
This is Philippe Jaroussky’s first foray into the German repertoire, and one does hear that he’s not singing in his native language. But he turns this to an asset instead of a flaw with the extreme precision in his pronunciation and melodious linguistic sensitivity. The concentration of Teutonic consonants may occasionally get in the way of clarté, so that it can’t hurt the listener to take a look at the text now and then. The reviewer stresses there’s nothing wrong with that; in fact, it’s part of the excitement of hearing Bach and Telemann in a new way. It’s good to listen to a work such as “Ich habe genug” (BWV 82) sung by a voice with a background outside the oratorio tradition, and by an artist who sings with great conscientiousness. M. Jaroussky brings all the fervent gleam of his countertenor into the faithful (i.e., religious) person’s longing for death, where it is paired with the sound of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, which one has seldom heard play with such warmth. In the aria “Schlummert ein,” tempo and pauses come close to a standstill and are on the brink of becoming mannered, but never cross the line. M. Jaroussky takes every syllable seriously, and his sonorous low register blends beautifully with the bass and bassoon. In “Vergnügte Ruh” (BWV 170), the singer’s focus and Bach’s style meld less smoothly and register shifts become audible. However, the reviewer regards this as spotlighting Bach’s occasionally very difficult vocal lines, something one doesn’t encounter with Telemann. His masterpiece on this CD, the accompagnato “Die stille Nacht umschloss den Kreis der Erden,” is sung so appealingly by the countertenor that one might imagine he and the composer had met in Paris in 1737.

- Berio: Sinfonia; Berio/Mahler: 10 Early Songs
Conductor/orchestra: Josep Pons, BBC Symphony Orchestra
Matthias Goerne (baritone); The Synergy Vocals
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902180 (1 CD)
In an interview he once gave this magazine, composer Luciano Berio said, “I have always believed that the future can only develop out of the past,” and explained that he saw reworking the compositions of others as a “tribute” to thoughts that had never been completed. That certainly applied to his arrangements of Mahler’s early songs, which are performed on this disc by Matthias Goerne and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Josep Pons. The baritone shows himself to be at the height of his interpretive artistry, and positioned here ideally with respect to the orchestra, sings with luxurious volume, a wealth of colors and dynamics, and the grand gestures appropriate to these Lieder.
Probably the most popular of Berio’s works, the Sinfonia was written in 1968-69 and its third movement in particular presents a collage of music and text against the background of that decade’s pop culture. As a foil, Berio uses the scherzo from Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony and – in the reviewer’s analogy – pulls countless musical quotes out of his hat with the ease of a magician. The Sinfonia was dedicated to Leonard Bernstein and has been recorded by a number of prominent conductors. Maestro Pons need fear no comparisons with any of them. His musical dramaturgy is exemplary, with the Synergy Vocal not buried in the orchestra’s sound but delicately placed in the foreground, so that the textual collage (including excerpts by such luminaries as Claude Lévi-Strauss, Samuel Beckett, and James Joyce as well as Berio himself) is more clearly depicted than in most of the competing recordings.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Giordano: Andrea Chénier
Conductor: Sir Antonio Pappano
Director: Sir David McVicar
Cast: Jonas Kaufmann, Eva Maria Westbroek, Željko Lučiċ, Denyce Graves, Roland Wood, Rosalind Plowright, Adrian Clarke, Carlo Bossi, Elena Zilio, Peter Hoare, Peter Coleman-Wright, et. al.
Warner Classics 190295937966 (1 DVD)
This magazine’s reviewer is less impressed with this Royal Opera House production than his counterpart at Das Opernglas, but still finds much in its favor. Sir David McVicar’s traditional staging is underpinned with psychological realism and allows the camera many illuminating perspectives and close-ups; the soloists convey with every movement of their bodies their identification with the figures they portray. Željko Lučiċ (Gérard) is a powerful presence, especially when he has a stage director who will work with him (something that doesn’t occur in the Met Otello also reviewed in this issue). The one cast member who occasionally comes across as passive is Jonas Kaufmann in the title role. It may be that he wasn’t at his best on the evening this production was filmed, but he sounds as though Chénier takes him to his absolute limits. On the other hand, Eva Maria Westbroek’s tangy, not too lyrical soprano suits Maddalena well. And Sir Tony Pappano’s interpretation of this work has reference quality. He draws hearty playing from his ROH Orchestra where Giordano calls for it, brings elegance to the ballet sequence, and creates overall a “sinewy” sound with lean brio.

- Mozart: Don Giovanni
Conductor: Teodor Currentzis
Cast: Dimitris Tiliakos, Vito Priante, Mytrò Papatanasiou, Karina Gauvin, Kenneth Tarver, Christina Gensch, Guido Loconsolo, Mika Kares
Sony Classical 88985316032 (3 CDs)
There’s a reason Don Giovanni, the final installment in Teodor Currentzis’ recordings of the Mozart-da Ponte operas for Sony, has only been recently released. Immediately after the staged production at the Perm Opera House in 2014, Currentzis wanted to make the recording, but with a different cast. So recording sessions got underway and were close to completion by the end of the year, but then the conductor rejected the result and decided to start all over again in November and December, 2015 – with yet another cast. The Maestro has cultivated the reputation of a perfectionist, but that may have been his undoing here, at least as far as the soloists are concerned. The recording confirms the impressions made during the performance in Perm, with Currentzis sharpening every contrast in the score and driving tempos to the point of the nearly impossible. He doesn’t aim for a rounded orchestral sound, but rather emphasizes continually intensifying phrasing and keeps the Hammerklavier (Benoit Harton and Maxim Emelyanychev) quite busy. Many of the transitions between recitatives and the musical numbers are achieved with a “phenomenal” virtuosity; one has seldom heard so clearly that the decisive interaction between Don Giovanni and Zerlina occurs in the recitatives and not initially in “Là ci darem la mano.” Donna Elvira’s “Ah! fuggi il traditor” is shaped by the conductor and soprano Karina Gauvin as a sharply defined “Baroque miniature.” It’s Ms. Gauvin who provides the best singing on this recording; her rendition of “In quali eccessi, o Numi,” the recitative preceding “Mi tradi,” is lauded by the reviewer as “miraculous.” Unfortunately, the other cast members are not up to her standard. In Currentzis’ hands, this opera becomes an orchestral piece that the reviewer says “lives from the furor and histrionic fire of the conductor.” The Maestro hadn’t sought strong, individual voices for the production in Perm, reinforcing the impression that it doesn’t really matter who is singing. It’s also possible that the soloists were simply tired out from the “excessive” number of rehearsals and/or “endless” recording sessions. In any case, the reviewer finds that they sound “like shadows of themselves.” Dimitris Tiliakos’ Don Giovanni makes little of his Champagne Aria; Mytrò Papatanasiou (Donna Anna) creates some original ornamentation that reaches well beyond high B, but otherwise, sings as though somnambulant and with half-voice through her numbers; Christina Gansch “peeps” Zerlina’s music; and the reviewer wonders if Vito Priante (Leporello) caught a cold in Perm. That the roles of both master and servant are cast with baritones may make the “alter ego” concept plausible, but it also tends to level out the vocal profiles of the two characters. As the critic finally observes: the conductor who likes to present himself as an “all-or-nothing” interpreter has overreached this time. The high point in his Mozart-da Ponte cycle remains Cosi fan tutte.

- Mayr: Medea in Corinto
Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Director: Benedetto Sicca
Cast: Davinia Rodriguez, Michael Spyres, Mihaela Marcu, Enea Scala, Roberto Lorenzi, Paolo Cauteruccio, Marco Stefani, Nozomi Kato
Dynamic 7735 (2 CDs)
Though most of Johann Simon/Giovanni Simone Mayr’s operas are still regarded as rarities, Medea in Corinto is represented by four recordings in the discography, including a video version of this CD set issued by Dynamic and reviewed in the October issue of Das Opernglas. Dynamic’s release features the Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia, Philharmonic Orchestra of Cluij-Napoca, and Chorus of Transylvania State under the baton of Fabio Luisi, whose account of the score has some of the same rich, romantic colors heard in Ivor Bolton’s reading with the Bavarian State Orchestra (Arthaus DVD/Blu-ray), but large stretches still sound very conventional and average. Where the orchestra’s contributions are concerned, Maestro Bolton and his Bavarians remain the top choice. Munich’s Medea, Nadja Michael, also makes a more favorable impression than Luisi’s Davinia Rodriguez. Medea has to do more than rant and rage; Mayr has included some fine details and shadings in his music for her, which Ms. Rodriguez only manages in her midrange and low register. Mihelia Marcu is a pallid Creusa, but Dynamic has the advantage in the Giasone, with Michael Spyres delivering a virtuosic portrayal of the faithless leader of the Argonauts with his effortless top. Neither Ramón Vargas (Bolton) or Bruce Ford on David Parry’s CD set (Opera Rara) is up to the same level.

- Mayr: Saffo
Conductor: Franz Hauk
Cast: Andrea Lauren Brown, Jaewon Yun, Markus Schäfer, Marie Sande Papenmeyer, Daniel Preis, Katharina Ruckgaber
Naxos 8.660367-68 (2 CDs)

- Mayr: Amore non soffre opposizioni
Conductor: Franz Hauk
Cast: Giulio Alvise Caselli, Richard Resch, Monika Lichtenegger, Philipp Gaiser, Laura Faig, Josef Zwink, et. al.
Naxos 8.660361-62 (2 CDs)
With the exception of Medea in Corinto, most of the approximately 60 operas composed by Mayr will likely remain something for the specialist listener rather than a wider audience. With these new recordings of Saffo, which premiered in 1794 at Venice’s La Fenice, and Amore non soffre opposizioni, first heard in 1810 at the same city’s Teatro San Moisè, conductor Franz Hauk and his forces have achieved a revitalization of the two works, but no more than that, in spite of all their evident care and dedication. Founder of the Simon Mayr Chorus (heard in Saffo) and former business director of the Simon Mayr Society, Maestro Hauk leads the Concerto de Bassus (named for the composer’s friend and patron Thomas de Bassus) in Saffo, and the East-West European Festival Orchestra in the later opera. Saffo was written in what was then the already outdated style of the seria, and listening to it makes one wonder what purpose this recording serves beyond a documentation. In the title role, soprano Andrea Lauren Brown clearly shows potential, while Jaewon Yun sings Faone with a youthful, bell-like lyric soprano. As Alceo, Markus Schäfer displays a fluid tenor that, unfortunately, no longer sounds quite fresh, especially in the coloratura passages that hint at the direction in which Mayr’s style will develop. Hauk’s reading of Amore non soffre opposizioni, an opera giacosa, is characterized by great precision and transparency, though its buffo quality may have been more clearly conveyed during the actual staged production at the Festival in Neuburg than on the audio recording of it. The plot revolves around the widower Policarpo, who wants to arrange a wealthy marriage for his daughter Gelmina with Ernesto, the son of Argante. Problem is that the young man has been secretly wed for some time to a lady named Elmira and has a little son, but he either abandoned his wife or she abandoned him. As it turns out, the missing Elmira is none other than Policarpo’s housekeeper Zefirina. After numerous complications, all ends happily – except for Gelmina, whose fate evidently interests no one at this point, and is left – strangely – to join in the general rejoicing. In the cast of young soloists, Monika Lichtenegger brings a glowing soprano to Elmira/Zefirina, though there is occasionally some flickering in her upper register. Tenor Richard Resch (Ernesto) has his troubles when agile singing is called for, especially when it lies in his upper register; among the three basses, Giulio Alvise Caselli’s Argante is the most notable.

- Joyce Di Donato: “In War and Peace”
Conductor/orchestra: Maxim Emelyanychev, Il Pomo d’Oro
Arias by Handel, Leo, Jommelli, Monteverdi, and Purcell
Warner/Erato 0190295928464 (1 CD)
The reviewer’s primary objection here seems to be with the album’s concept rather than Ms. Di Donato’s interpretation of the material. In fact, her account of the title heroine’s aria, “Prendi quell ferro, barbaro,” from Leonardo Leo’s Andromaca receives glowing praise, as does her rendition of the “incomprehensibly risky” aria “Pensieri” from Handel’s Agrippina. It’s discoveries like these, the critic asserts, as well as the familiar pieces that make an aria collection such as this worth listening to; they’re actually the strongest argument for the “concept album,” of which there are very few centered on the Baroque repertoire. (Not sure I’d agree Baroque concept albums are so rare, just recalling the CDs featuring Simone Kermes, Anna Prohaska, and others.) The problem with a thematic focus on war and peace in this repertoire is that military clashes in Baroque operas’ librettos – when they occur – are usually designed to illustrate emotional conflicts. This CD could just as well have been titled “Love and Death” or “Hearts and Storms.” In order to fulfill the concept here, all of the threatening or tragic selections are presented first, followed by the lighter, cheerful ones. Not only does that make things less exciting, but the best pieces were not always chosen, with the exception of Niccolò Jommelli’s “Par che di giubilo” from Attilio Regolo (1753), which seems to anticipate Mozart. (How does the reviewer know the best pieces weren’t chosen?) In this aria, one is astounded by Ms. Di Donato’s mastery of the music and her ability to always apportion her power effectively. If the mezzo had only followed a more emotional dramaturgy, as she does with the exciting shift from Handel’s “Pensieri” to Dido’s Lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, without the limitations imposed by the theme, she could have developed a program that retains its dramatic tension through to the end. Also deserving of commendation here is the HIP ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro under the baton of Maxim Emelyanychev.

- Pretty Yende: “A Journey”
Conductor/orchestra: Marco Armiliato, RAI National Symphony Orchestra
With Kate Aldrich (mezzo), Gianluca Buratto (bass), and Nicola Alaimo (baritone)
Selections from operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Gounod, and Delibes
Sony Classical 88985321692 (1 CD)
Within the past several years, the South African soprano’s career has really taken off. With a repertoire that encompasses Mozart, lyric coloratura, and bel canto roles, Ms. Yende recently sang Elvira (I Puritani) in Zürich and will soon appear at the Met as Gounod’s Juliette. Her debut recital album isn’t confined to just a selection of arias, but includes extended scenes from operas such as Beatrice di Tenda and Lucia di Lammermoor. One hears a singer with remarkable capabilities: an attractive timbre, agility, solid technical skills, and a wide range that reaches up to extreme high notes. Whether she’s portraying Lucia, Rosina, Juliette, Elvira, or the Comtesse Adele (Le Comte Ory), Ms. Yende is note-perfect. And yet . . . What’s missing here is not only stylistic sensitivity for the da capo ornamentation, but in general the masterful play with notes and phrases. She fulfills the requirements of the score without giving the music a distinctively personal interpretation. Perhaps she needs the stimulus of the live theatrical performance. In any case, she receives animated, expert support from Maestro Marco Armiliato and the RAI National Symphony Orchestra.

- Schumann: Dichterliebe; Selected Songs
Mauro Peter (tenor), Helmut Deutsch (pianist)
Sony 8 89853 38492 1 (1 CD)
A little more than a year after the release of his recording of Schubert’s Goethe Lieder, the young Swiss tenor presents another Lied recital album, this one focused on Schumann. In addition to the familiar cycle Dichterliebe, the disc also contains Fünf Lieder (Five Songs), op. 40, and 10 songs that, like Dichterliebe, are set to texts by Heinrich Heine. Art songs, perhaps more than any other type of classical vocal music, demand from the interpreter a certain inner maturity that can’t be measured in years. This is particularly true for the great narrative cycles, in which a little bit of Sturm und Drang is perceptible among all the Romanticism. This poses a challenge for the singer: if the interpretation is too serene, the work loses its inner glow; too fevered, and the whole simply sounds like rapturous enthusiasm. The risk is especially present in Dichterliebe with all of its yearning on one hand and resentful grumbling on the other. Mr. Peter seeks a balanced approach to the cycle, based both on his vocal disposition and on what can be derived from the composition. In his account, the deep Rhine sounds a little less powerful and the narrator mentally/emotionally transported to the heights; the tearful dream in E-flat Minor gains its own tonal intensity. Clearly capable of further development are those moments where changes in color and a fine modulation of the voice are required – for example, the story of the boy and girl (“Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen”) is missing the necessary desperate cheerfulness that is first broken in the final verse. Helmut Deutsch is an experienced accompanist, but here sounds rather more reserved than free over long stretches.

- Mahler: Rückert-Lieder, Songs of a Wayfarer (Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen), Kindertotenlieder
Gerhild Romberger (mezzo soprano), Alfredo Perl (pianist)
Dabinghaus & Grimm MDG 903 1972 (1 SACD)
Gerhild Romberger’s singing career has been based almost entirely on the concert podium, and she has attained an international reputation as an interpreter of Mahler’s works. On this disc, she presents two of the composer’s three song cycles set to texts by Friedrich Rückert: the Rückert-Lieder, obviously, and Kindertotenlieder. They are paired with his Songs of a Wayfarer, written almost two decades prior to the Rückert cycles, to form a triptych. The mezzo sings with great involvement and fine feeling, power, and clear diction. Some of her vocal techniques will be a matter of taste, such as the placement of the voice more or less on the palate and a somewhat stiff top, especially at forte. She uses the version of all three cycles with piano accompaniment, and has a subtle, sensitive partner at the keyboard in Alfredo Perl.

SAVE YOUR MONEY

- Verdi: Otello
Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Director: Bartlett Sher
Cast: Aleksandrs Antonenko, Sonya Yoncheva, Željko Lučiċ, Dimitri Pittas, Günther Groissböck, Jennifer Johnson Cano, Chad Shelton, Jeff Matsey, Tyler Duncan
Sony Classical 88985308909 (2 DVDs)
Perhaps this should have been included in the “Pluses and Minuses” category, but were it not for Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s masterful conducting and Željko Lučiċ’s memorable Iago, this 2015 performance from the Met has precious little to recommend it. Certainly not Bartlett Sher’s “numbing” production, which confines the action to spaces between movable Plexiglas cabinets and noticeably restricts the singers’ opportunities to enact their roles. The cast, too, leaves much to be desired, the aforementioned Mr. Lučiċ excepted. Aleksandrs Antonenko’s Otello is acceptable only when he can sing at high volume; in piano phrases, his intonation becomes questionable, and mezzavoce is usually fudged. In her role debut as Desdemona, Sonya Yoncheva displays a frosty timbre and a voice that first has to settle. The unusual casting of a genuine bel canto baritone without the typical “black” sound of most Iagos makes Mr. Lučiċ’s villain interesting from his first appearance, and he turns this to advantage with an uncommonly nuanced portrayal. He makes the best impressions in close-ups, not only through his acting talent, but also with a hint of the good technical preparation that enables him to sing without any facial distortions. Maestro Nézet-Séguin’s reading of Verdi’s partitur is on a par with great podium predecessors, with brisk tempos that never sound rushed, a natural lyricism, and an emphasis on musical dramaturgy and logic. The soloists have grasped his intention and shape their characterizations in perfect harmony with the conductor.

MAuer
January 3rd, 2017, 12:33 PM
Here is the summary of reviews from the January, 2017, issue of Das Opernglas (http://www.opernglas.de/). If you’re wondering where the summary of reviews from the December, 2016, issue is – I’m wondering where the magazine is. Once in a while, an issue of this publication or Opernwelt will arrive more than a month late, something that’s probably not too surprising when two countries’ postal systems and an ocean are involved. And in this case, we can add the holidays. I’m hoping the December issue of Das Opernglas will eventually turn up.

RECOMMENDED

Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel
Conductor: Christian Thielemann
Director: Adrian Noble
Cast: Daniela Sindram, Ileana Tonca, Adrian Eröd, Janina Baechle, Michaela Schuster, Annika Gerhards
EuroArts 8 80242 72984 2 (1 DVD)
On the whole, this is a respectable addition to the recordings of Humperdinck’s popular opera based on the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale. When Adrian Noble’s production premiered at the Vienna State Opera in 2015, it was actually the first new staging of the work at the Staatsoper since 1944. While the British Regisseur’s approach is essentially traditional, he places the action within a framework set in Victorian-era London at Christmastime, where the father of an upper middle class family has surprised his children with a laterna magica. Through the images projected by this device on the walls, the kids – and viewers – are transported to the forest and witch’s house of the fairy tale. Mr. Noble receives kudos from the reviewer for the many witty ideas with which he has enlivened the story. On the musical side, Christian Thielemann leads a top-drawer performance by the Vienna State Opera Orchestra with plenty of opulent tone, but also some wonderfully intimate, chamber music-like passages such as the sleep and dream sequence of the second act. The voices of Daniela Sindram (Hänsel) and Ileana Tonca (Gretel) are really a notch too large and mature for the roles of children, but nonetheless, they make a charming pair of siblings. Ms. Tonca is a girlish, often a little despondent Gretel, while Ms. Sindram’s Hänsel is all arms and legs, awkward and clumsy, but by no means stupid. Adrian Eröd brings a sonorous, well-produced baritone to the broom maker, though he does sound a bit lean when contrasted with the rich, guttural mezzo of Janina Baechle’s Gertrud. Michaela Schuster is not the stereotypical hag, but a lively, young witch whom one can believe quite capable of initially winning children’s trust.

- Rameau: Dardanus
Conductor: Raphaël Pichon
Director: Michel Fau
Cast: Reinoud van Mechelen, Gaëlle Arquez, Karina Gauvin, Katherine Watson, Nahuel di Pierro, Florian Sempey, Etienne Bazola, Virgile Ancely, Guillaume Gutiérrez
Harmonia Mundi 9859051.52 (2 DVDs)
A fine musical performance is paired with a magnificent staging in this 2015 production from Bordeaux. Director Michel Fau’s sumptuous, colorful treatment of Rameau’s opera is filled with an “extraordinary” wealth of ideas, while David Belugou’s costumes are a feast for the eyes. Christopher Williams’ impressive choreography introduces some variety in the plot action in an attractive manner, and Emmanuel Charles’ sets are filled with fantastic effects, as when Venus makes her appearance floating down from the skies on a pink swing that suggests a vagina. (Well, she is the goddess of beauty and erotic love!) The lady is sung by soprano Karina Gauvin, who is clearly enjoying her role, and it’s especially appealing when Venus is joined by her son Amour in the person of soprano Katherine Watson. Tenor Reinoud van Mechelen is an agile, likeable Dardanus, who magnanimously saves the life of his romantic rival Anténor (Florian Sempey) and makes peace with King Teucer, after which he is rewarded with the hand of his beloved Iphise (Gaëlle Arquez). Interestingly, Mr. di Pierro has been double-cast in the role of the magician Isménor, who arranges the meeting of Dardanus and Iphise, and he makes a favorable impression in both roles with his deep, rich bass. Raphaël Pichon and his HIP orchestra Ensemble Pygmalion give an uncommonly lively interpretation of Rameau’s music, making the long declamatory passages in the three hour opera seem brief.

- Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito
Conductor: Alessandro de Marchi
Cast: Carlo Allemano, Nina Bernsteiner, Kate Aldrich, Ann-Beth Solvang, Dana Marbach, Marcell Bakonyi
cpo 777870-2 (2 CDs)
Of primary interest in this live recording from the 2013 Innsbruck Festival of Early Music is the use of the reconstructed 1804 version of Mozart’s opera, with additional arias supplied by Joseph Weigl and Johann Simon (a.k.a. Giovanni Simone) Mayr. It was in this arrangement that La Clemenza di Tito actually became the most frequently performed of Mozart’s operas in the early 19th century, and the recording sheds additional light on performance practices and audience tastes during this period. Under the baton of Alessandro de Marchi, the Orchestra of the Academia Montis Regalis gives a masterful reading of the partitur, with beautiful playing, lively tempos, and outstanding instrumental solos in the arias that are a pleasure to hear. Both the Chorus of the Academia Montis Regalis (chorus master Claudio Chiamazza) and the continuo group of cello and contrabass have been superbly prepared, with the latter providing a wide variety of tonal colors in the sometimes dry recitatives. Unfortunately, the Chorus is often placed acoustically in the background. There is a fine group of soloists, led by Carlo Allemano as the Emperor Vespasian, whose tenor displays baritonal shadings. Nina Bernsteiner is a vocally trim Vitellia, and both she and Kate Aldrich as an emotionally charged Sesto shape their characters impressively. The three principals are joined by Ann-Beth Solvang (Servilia), Dana Marbach (Annio), and Marcell Bakonyi (Publio). A distinguishing characteristic of this recording is the manner in which all of the singers shape their portrayals through the use of ornamentation and coloratura which is not present in Mozart’s original composition. Nonetheless, the “bombastic” march in Weigl’s aria, “Splende di Roma il fato,” or Mayr’s early bel canto style often seems somewhat alien when one considers the compactness and unity of Mozart’s operas.

- Purcell: Dido and Aeneas
Conductor: Fabio Bonizzoni
Cast: Raffaella Milanesi, Richard Helm, Stefanie True, Iason Marmaras, Michela Antenucci, Anna Bessi
Challenge Classics CC72737 (1 CD)
Since no autograph is available for this opera and the notation that has been handed down has generated considerable discussion, there are a number of different versions of Dido and Aeneas among the countless CDs and DVDs in the discography of the work. Fabio Bonizzoni, who has already received several awards for his recordings of Handel’s Italian cantatas, went in search of original source material for Purcell’s opera and hit pay dirt (so to speak). On this recording, he and the orchestra La Risonanza, which he founded in 1995, along with six soloists present the results of his research. Dido and Aeneas probably had its premiere in 1689 at a young ladies’ boarding school in Chelsea, but the first documented public performance took place in London in 1700 – with its individual acts used as inserts in Shakespeare’s Measure For Measure. In 1704, John Eccles’ 15-minute composition, The Love of Venus and Mars, was added to Purcell’s opera as a prologue. Maestro Bonizzoni references this program development on his recording, arranging and even composing some passages in a number of places in Eccles’ score. He has even researched English pronunciation in the early 18th century, so that “brow” is sung as “brew” (rhyming with “you”) and “destiny” rendered as “destin-eye” in order to rhyme with “defie” (which I take to be the archaic spelling of “defy”). Now, according to the conductor, modern listeners can hear Purcell’s opera performed in the way it probably sounded to London audiences in 1704. Under his guidance, La Risonanza and the Chorus Costanzo Porta are fully engaged in the music and deliver an interpretation of meticulous precision. Raffaela Milanesi is an “exemplary” Dido, with her almost vibrato-free soprano sounding beautiful and even, especially in the famous aria, “When I am laid in earth.” However, one wishes for more expressivity in this deeply moving piece, and here Milanesi lacks the charisma that predecessors such as Kirsten Flagstad, Janet Baker, or Jessye Norman possessed. As Aeneas, baritone Richard Helm makes a dignified partner for her, and Stefanie True’s youthful, girlish soprano is well-suited to the role of Belinda. While the Sorcoress is sung in other recordings by a mezzo, here the character is assigned to the bass Iason Marmaras, whose ugly stretching of the vowels gives this figure a sinister aura.

- Pergolesi: Adriano in Siria
Conductor: Jan Tomasz Adamus
Cast: Franco Fagioli, Romina Basso, Yuriy Mynenko, Dilyara Idrisova, Juan Sancho, Cigdem Soyarsl
Decca 483 0004 (3 CDs)
Pergolesi’s opera was chronologically the third of six settings of Metastasio’s libretto titled Adriano in Siria, though an unidentified individual made considerable changes to the original text for this version. When it premiered in 1734 at Naples’ Teatro San Bartolomeo, Pergolesi’s opera was designed to showcase the ensemble’s star, the castrato Caffarelli (née Gaetano Majorano), and the three arias and a duet for his character (Farnaspe), which are among the most beautiful pieces in Neapolitan opera, offer an impressive picture of Caffarelli’s capabilities. A live recording on the Bongiovanni label of this work from Jesi in 1986 with Marcello Panni conducting a cast that included Daniela Dessi and Gloria Banditelli is still available, but must yield to Decca’s new release as the preferred version – the latter coming much closer to meeting present standards of historic performance practice. Aside from a hastily chopped off rendition of the overture, conductor Jan Tomasz Adamus and the Capella Cracoviensis avoid the dynamic and agogic excesses considered appropriate by some Early Music practitioners and instead listen to the pulse of the music. The continuo, consisting only of harpsichord and theorbo, remains discreetly in the background rather than “overgrowing” the main instrumental voices, and corresponds more to the early Classical style than the Baroque idiom.
In the role of Farnaspe that was created by Caffarelli, countertenor Franco Fagioli delivers a brilliant, passionate, virtuosic performance with a range extending from contralto depths into the soprano register. His perfectly schooled, substantive voice is likened by the reviewer to shooting “like wild water through coloratura cataracts;” in the Nightingale Aria “Lieto cosi tal volta,” his tone melds beautifully with the solo oboe. He crowns the great sea tempest scene, “Torbido in volto a nero,” with four luminous high Cs. As Farnaspe’s fiancée Emirena, who is pursued by the Roman Emperor Hadrian (Adriano), Romina Basso uses her “majestic” contralto to give fine nuances to a character who spends much of her time in remorseful lamentation. For a title character, Adriano actually has surprisingly little to sing, including a lightning-fast revenge aria that lasts all of 90 seconds – with da capo! That’s regrettable, since one would have liked to hear more from Yuriy Mynenko. Pergolesi also wrote very attractive music for the seconda donna, Sabina, which Dilyara Idrisova sings with a trim, spotlessly pure soprano. The only disappointment on this recording is the Osroe of Juan Sancho. If the tenor missed no opportunity in his earlier recordings to insert additional high notes, his poorly-sitting voice hardly seems in the condition for such high flights here.

- Salieri: La Scuola de’ Gelosi (The School of Jealousy)
Conductor: Werner Ehrhardt
Cast: Francesca Lombardi Mazzuli, Emiliano d’Aguanno, Roberta Mameli, Federico Sacchi, Milena Storti, Florian Götz, Patrick Vogel
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 8898532282 (3 CDs)
Following its world premiere during the 1779 Venetian Carnevale, Salieri’s La Scuola de’ Gelosi enjoyed tremendous popularity not only in Italy, but in the musical centers of Vienna, Prague, Dresden, London, Paris, and St. Petersburg as well. But in spite of the fact that no less than Lorenzo da Ponte had extensively revised Catarino Mazzolà’s libretto for the performances at Vienna’s Burgtheater, the opera was unable to maintain its place in the repertoire over time. Now Salieri’s composition has been resurrected on disc under the auspices of the series “Opera From the Archives of the World,” which was established in 2010. In a cooperative effort between Bayer Kultur (Bavarian Culture) and West German Radio, the latter’s Artistic Director, Werner Ehrhardt, researched both the original version and the Vienna revision to develop a “formidable” performance model. Under his baton, the HIP orchestra L’Arte del Mondo gives a sterling account of the work, with crystal-clear playing in both instrumental solos and as an ensemble. At the keyboard of the Hammerklavier, Massimiliano Toni weaves “virtuosic garlands” in the recitatives that wind around the singers’ voices in a charming, colorful manner. The plot involves three couples – the noble Count and Countess Bandiera, the middle class grain merchant Blasio and his wife Ernestina, and Blasio’s servant Lumaca and his wife, the chambermaid Carlotta – plus the Lieutenant, Blasio’s scheming cousin and a friend of the count, who ultimately only wants to achieve good by sorting out the various jealous entanglements. This live recording from the Bayer Erholungshaus (Bavarian Holiday House), one of the oldest performance venues in Leverkusen, features an especially well-balanced group of soloists. Francesca Lombardi Mazzuli sings the Countess with a slightly neutral timbre but “glittering” high notes, while Roberta Mameli (Ernestina) trusts her dramatic instincts a little more and fires off “blazing” coloratura. Bass-baritone Florian Götz brings fine dynamic shadings to the part of Lumaca, while Carlotta is sung by Milena Storti, whose captivating light mezzo easily reaches into the high register. There are also pleasing contributions from tenor Emiliano d’Aguanno (Count Bandiera), bass Federico Sacchi (Blasio), and tenor Patrick Vogel (the Lieutenant). The 186-page accompanying booklet contains the complete libretto in a “fluid” new translation by Eva Reisinger, which makes the plot’s twists and turns easier to follow. One must assume that translation is in German, and I can find no information on whether or not an English translation is also provided.

- Mendelssohn: EliasConductor/orchestra: Thomas Hengelbrock, Balthasar Neurmann Ensemble
Soloists: Genia Kühmeier, Ann Hallenberg, Lothar Odinius, Michael Nagy
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88985362562 (2 CDs)
Mendelssohn originally wrote the music for this oratorio to a German text, but this was quickly translated into English for the work’s premiere in Birmingham. This new recording uses the original German, as indicated by the title (rather than Elijah). If one has no linguistic preferences or wants the German version, this is an excellent choice. On the podium of the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble and Balthasar Neumann Chorus, Thomas Hengelbrock leads a moving, deeply felt interpretation. The four outstanding soloists add to the high artistic standard of the performance.

- Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcelli
Sistine Chapel Choir; Massimo Polombella (director)
Deutsche Grammophon 479 6131 (1 CD)
This new release of the Pope Marcellus Mass is the first of this work to feature the Sistine Chapel Choir, which sings exclusively in the Vatican and only recently began to permit recording of performances. The group of approximately 50 boys and men, led by director Massimo Polombella, is also heard on this disc in some of Palestrina’s smaller, lesser known motets. The soft, velvety sound of the choir is enhanced by the Sistine Chapel’s voluminous – but by no means reverberant – acoustics.

- “The Mirror of Claudio Monteverdi”
Director/chorus: Paul von Nevel, Huelgas Ensemble
Works by Monteverdi, Nicola Vincentino, Cesare Tudino, Giaches de Wert, and Luca Marinzio
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88875143482 (1 CD)
Monteverdi composed his Missa in illo tempore in 1610 along with his well-known Vespro della Beate Vergine, dedicating both of them to Pope Paul V in the hope of obtaining a position at the Vatican. Paul von Nevel and the Belgian Huelgas Ensemble, which has specialized in polyphonic music of the Renaissance and early Baroque era since 1971, assembled a program for this CD in which the Missa in illo tempore is contrasted with works by four older 16th century composers. The 12-member mixed chorus (men and women) is credited by the reviewer with accomplishing “small miracles” in attractive sound and precision.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Bellini: I Capuleti e i Montecchi
Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Director: Christof Loy
Cast: Olga Kulchynska, Joyce Di Donato, Benjamin Bernheim, Roberto Lorenzi, Alexei Botnarciuc, Gieorgij Puchalski
Accentus Music ACC 20353 (1 DVD)
This DVD very nearly comes under the “Save Your Money” category, due both to Christof Loy’s heavy-handed staging and the number of competing – and superior – recordings of this opera in the discography. Herr Loy’s production for the Zürich Opera was not among his outstanding efforts, and the video confirms this impression. Everything seems weighted down with meaning; the atmosphere is relentlessly grim and oppressive, with the pair of lovers constantly accompanied by a figure that’s evidently supposed to be Death personified. This additional character provides no new insights and instead robs the lovers’ encounters of intimacy. And the suggestion that Giulietta’s inability to flee with Romeo stems from an incestuous relationship with her father is also nothing new. The almost continuous movement of the revolving stage (with Christian Schmidt’s sets in the style of the first half of the 20th century) is somewhat less irritating on screen than it was in the opera house, with the camera close-ups providing some distraction. However, this also underscores the pretentiousness of the entire production.
Joyce Di Donato (Romeo) was the star attraction of Zürich’s performance, but those who want to experience her in peak form in this role would do better with the DVD of the San Francisco Opera’s production instead. Here she displays her characteristic rich, warm timbre and artistic phrasing, but high notes reveal a marked rapid vibrato and the elegance of her vocal production is not always up to her usual standard. Olga Kulchynska replaced the originally cast soprano as Giulietta and had to learn the role shortly before the premiere. She has an impressively full, round, clear voice that maintains its focus across its entire range, and while it may seem like nitpicking in consideration of the conditions under which she sang the part to note that much of her interpretation still needs some refinement, the quality of the competition warrants the mention. All of the other roles are satisfactorily cast. Zürich’s General Music Director Fabio Luisi draws lilting, well-articulated playing from his musicians, and the reverberation created by the recording technology compensates for the dry acoustics in the house. An informative booklet accompanies the DVD.

- Handel: Giulio Cesare
Conductor: Giovanni Antonini
Directors: Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier
Cast: Andreas Scholl, Cecilia Bartoli, Philippe Jaroussky, Anne Sophie von Otter, Christophe Dumaux, Jochen Kowalski, Ruben Drole, Peter Kálmán
Decca 074 3856 (2 DVDs)
A noteworthy musical performance is undercut by a hodgepodge, disjointed staging in this production from the 2012 Salzburg Whitsun Festival. Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier were known earlier for the sensitive aesthetics of their work, but here seem to have gone at Handel’s opera with a sledgehammer. Events have been updated to the present (relatively) and placed within a combat zone in the Middle East – or in what the reviewer refers to as a Regietheater Vanity Fair. There are countless plays on the directorial styles of other Regisseurs, but these never seem to add up to any sort of coherent whole. The result is indecisive and scattershot. It’s never clear if Messrs. Leiser and Caurier are aiming for a serious look at power dynamics in the region as reflected in the conflict between Cleopatra and Tolomeo, or for a heavily applied persiflage. It may be amusing, but hardly enlightening, when the Egyptian queen hovers above the stage astride a missile.
Four countertenors were engaged for the cast of this production, and it’s impressive to hear how each voice displays its own character distinct from all the others. Andreas Scholl’s warm, comparatively dark timbre underscores Caesar’s virile decisiveness, while Philippe Jaroussky’s brilliant timbre and agile, animated coloratura reflect Sesto’s adolescence. Christophe Dumaux’s Tolomeo is somewhere between the two, but fully their equal in terms of vocal security and imaginative phrasing. Veteran Jochen Kowalski, cast as the Queen’s servant Nireno, shows that he’s still quite capable of shaping a sharply pointed portrayal. (Note: the reviewer refers to this character as a female named Nirena – no idea if this was another one of the directors’ attempts at humor.) As Cleopatra, Cecilia Bartoli makes the most of her particular talents: ease of vocal production, spirited coloratura, and brilliant tonal colors even when singing softly. Her mezzo colleague Anne Sophie von Otter (Cornelia) offers a contrasting, though no less convincing approach. Where Ms. Bartoli risks a tendency toward the mannered, Ms. von Otter relies on simplicity and concentration. The two lower-voiced men, Ruben Drole and Peter Kálmán, are not up to the same standard as the rest of the cast. There is an exemplary contribution from the HIP ensemble Il Giardino Armonico with their flexible, nuanced playing under the baton of Giovanni Antonini.

- Handel: Alcina; Tamerlano
Conductor: Christophe Rousset
Director: Pierre Audi
Casts: Sandrine Piau, Maite Beaumont, Sabina Puértolas, Angélique Noldus, Daniel Behle, Chloé Briot, Giovanni Furlanetto, Edouard Higuet (Alcina); Christophe Dumaux, Sophie Karthäuser, Jeremy Ovenden, Delphine Galou, Ann Hallenberg, Nathan Berg, Caroline D'Haese (Tamerlano)
Alpha 715 (2 Blu-ray discs)
These two 2015 productions from Brussels’ La Monnaie/De Munt share the same conductor, orchestra, and production team, so it would seem logical to offer them as a set. Handel’s operas seem to inspire a wealth of directorial ideas, as evidenced by Katie Mitchell’s staging of Alcina at the 2015 Aix-en-Provence Festival or Johanna Garpes’ production of Tamerlano at the 2010 Göttingen Handel Festival. Pierre Audi prefers to focus on the characters’ psychological moods and situations, and one must look very closely in order to correctly sort out the singers’ gestures and facial expressions. In both operas, the stage is left bare, with columns on the left and right only hinted at. There is occasionally a chair present, which the figures not only sit on, but throw around in outbursts of rage. This sort of frugality in sets and props is supposed to let audience members concentrate on the music and the characters’ psychological condition, but with each opera lasting over three hours, this approach soon becomes monotonous and even boring. The soloists, garbed in “exquisite,” color-coordinated Rococo costumes, master their roles superbly, but never manage to create individuals of flesh and blood. The standout among the cast members in Alcina is tenor Daniel Behle as Oronte. Sandrine Piau’s Alcina remains too pallid to make this woman suffering from the loss of love and fear of growing old and unattractive an empathetic figure, and Sabina Puértolas’ Morgana is quite reserved in her amorous passion. As Ruggiero, Maite Beaumont remains very feminine in spite of her masculine attire, and Angélique Noldus’ Bradamante, disguised as a soldier, is also not terribly convincing. Though the part of the child Oberto can certainly be sung by a boy whose voice has not yet changed, La Monnaie opted for a woman (Chloé Briot) instead. In Tamerlano, the tenor is again the standout, with Jeremy Ovenden a brilliant Bajazet whose wild outbursts of fury and profound hatred of Tamerlano remain long in the viewer’s memory. Countertenor Christophe Dumaux seizes every opportunity to make the title character a thoroughly villainous creep; soprano Sophie Karthäuser is a captivating Asteria; and Delphine Galou employs her attractive, full contralto to portray an impressive Andronico. Ann Hallenberg makes the most of the smaller role of Irene. Led by Christophe Rousset, the period ensemble Les Talens Lyriques plays with great engagement and precision, but their reading often lacks the sensuality and the pleasant, beguiling quality in the strings without which Handel’s wonderful melodies can sound bloodless.

- Bellini: Norma
Conductor: Renato Palumbo
Director: Kevin Newbury
Cast: Sondra Radvanovsky, Ekaterina Gubanova, Gregory Kunde, Raymond Aceto, Ana Puche, Francisco Vas
C Major 737208 (2 DVDs)
This is yet another case of a fine musical performance saddled with a less than convincing staging. Director Kevin Newbury chose not to fix events in any specific time period, setting both acts in a wooden barn with steers’ heads adorning the walls and a chopped-down tree occasionally raised upward for ritual veneration. The funeral pyre at the conclusion is a wooden steer, the enormous shadow of which rather suggests the Trojan horse. Jessica Jahn’s vaguely archaic costumes make the Gauls look like a cross between Sioux warriors and Maori chieftains, while the Romans are clad in leather uniforms with breastplates. Little attention seems to have been paid to Personenführung, though the reviewer wonders if this might be attributed to the director R. B. Schlather, who prepared Mr. Newbury’s production, originally designed for the San Francisco Opera, for performances at Barcelona’s Gran Teatro del Liceu. The choristers spend most of their time facing the audience and singing, while the soloists too often resort to helpless gestures. Whether this is really how “the Norma for our times looks,” as the accompanying booklet asserts, is open to question.
Sondra Radvanovsky, usually at home in the dramatic repertoire, has recently been adding bel canto roles to her roster. Hers is a heroic Norma, a leader to whom her people give unquestioning obedience, but the soprano isn’t content to rely on powerful attacks and fearless high notes to make an impression. Even more memorable are the moments when she scales back her big, darkly glowing voice to produce the finest piani and finds fresh nuances to express the heroine’s fears, self-doubt, vulnerability, and insecurity. Ekaterina Gubanova, known for her portrayals in Verdi’s and Wagner’s operas, is a throwback to the times when the role of Adalgisa was entrusted to such “large caliber” voices. (The reviewer wonders if it was for her sake that the great Act II duet was transposed by a full tone, as was customary earlier.) She, too, is most convincing in the quiet moments, when her rather broad, forcefully produced mezzo suddenly sounds lean and delicate. In the ungrateful part of Pollione, Gregory Kunde makes a credible Roman proconsul with his heroically radiant, baritonal tenor while never forgetting his good bel canto manners. The cabaletta of his entrance aria is adorned in the second verse with numerous embellishments and additional high notes, while he delivers a lesson in legato singing during the duet with Adalgisa. Only the Oroveso of Raymond Aceto is disappointing; his rather harsh-sounding bass doesn’t seem especially well-suited to bel canto roles. On the podium of the Liceu orchestra, Renato Palumbo allows the soloists plenty of room for ornamentation, but also knows when to tighten the reins. Moments of elegiac beauty are followed by dramatically accentuated passages in an account of Bellini’s score that is both sensitive and exciting.

- Puccini: Manon Lescaut
Conductor: Marco Armiliato
Cast: Anna Netrebko, Yusif Eyvazov, Armando Piña, Carlos Chausson, Benjamin Bernheim
Deutsche Grammophon 94796828 (2 CDs)
Fans of Anna Netebko will want this live recording of a concert performance of Puccini’s opera at last summer’s Salzburg Festival. The soprano is in peak form with singing that sounds agreeably natural and elegant, her luxurious, glowing voice paired with “sheer magical” high notes to convey the appropriate emotionalism of the title heroine. She never lacks for tonal color or dramatic power, as one hears in “In quelle trine morbide” and “Sola, perduta, abbandonata.” Tenor Yusif Eyvazov, the diva’s husband since the end of 2015, sings the role of Des Grieux well and, above all, loud, with respectable high notes. Making his Salzburg Festival debut, he pays attention to vocal nuances, whether in his short arioso, “Tra voi, belle,” or “Donna non vidi mai” – though the reviewer finds his account of the latter “oddly flabby.” His throaty, colorless, flickering voice remains a matter of taste, and his performance never approaches the standard of Mme. Netrebko. Armando Piña’s Lescaut displays a slight tremolo, but otherwise sounds rich and full; Carlos Chausson offers a respectable Geronte; and tenor Benjamin Bernheim impresses with his beautiful, subtle singing as Edmondo. Leading the Munich Radio Orchestra, Marco Armilato infuses Puccini’s score with radiant life, full of fabulously passionate, touching melodies. Only in the big second act duet between Manon and Des Grieux are his tempos a little too broad, so that the predominantly ecstatic mood is not entirely captured.

- Nico Dostel: Die ungarische Hochzeit (The Hungarian Wedding)
Conductor: Markus Burkert
Cast: Yevgeniy Taruntsov, Regina Riel, Thomas Zisterer, Anna-Sophie Kostal, Thomas Kovacic, Rita Peterl, Dolores Schmidinger (actress)
cpo 777 974-2 (2 CDs)
That Dostal’s operetta, which premiered in Stuttgart in 1939, is infrequently performed in the opera houses of the German-speaking countries (to say nothing of the rest of the world) is probably not surprising in consideration of its scarcely believable plot. In an effort to boost the Hungarian portion of her realm, the Empress Maria Theresia offers any young man willing to settle there a good piece of real estate and the prospect of marriage to a pretty young girl. The pretty young girls, however, actually turn out to be old women well past their prime, which, of course, doesn’t sit well with Her Imperial Majesty’s subjects. They respond by hatching all sorts of cunning tricks. Servants disguise themselves as Counts and romance noblewomen, Countesses pass themselves off as peasant girls, and the usual amorous complications follow. Dostal’s score shows solid craftsmanship and plenty of “local” color, though by 1939, the latter was nothing new. There are also very few numbers that have the stuff of “earworms,” aside perhaps from the silly ditty, “Kleine Etelka, sag doch bitte [/I[I]]ja,” and Janka’s touching Romance, “Spiel mir das Lied von Glück und Leid.” This recording comes from the 2015 Lehár Festival in Bad Ischl and offers an agreeable musical performance, especially from the Franz Lehár Orchestra led by Markus Burkert. The Act III Hungarian March is appropriately fiery, the ensemble scenes and choruses are lively, and there is delicate accompaniment during the love scenes. The soloists are less distinguished. As Count Stefan Bárdossy, tenor Yevgeniy Taruntsov shows weakness in the upper register. Regina Riel shapes the character of Janka von Kismarty well, but with a rather small soprano; however, she does muster an intimate, warm tone for her second act Romance. There are solid contributions from tenor Thomas Zisterer as the valet Arpád Erdödy, soprano Anna-Sophie Kostal as the peasant girl Etelka, baritone Thomas Kovacic in the role of Janka’s father Josef, and contralto Rita Peterl as Josef’s wife Frusina. In the spoken role of the Empress, who appears in the final act as a sort of deus ex machina, Dolores Schmidinger comes uncomfortably close to caricature.

- Pergolesi: Stabat Mater
Conductor/orchestra: Héloïse Gaillard, Ensemble Amarillis
Soloists: Sonya Yoncheva, Karine Deshayes
Sony Classical 88985369642 (1 CD)
The reviewer finds the choice of soloists quite surprising in this live 2016 performance from Paris’ Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. The mezzo Karine Deshayes has been most successful of late in high-lying roles on the border of soprano territory, and in fact, she doesn’t sound completely at ease in this work’s low contralto writing. She’s at her best in the quieter passages where she can let her voice flow peacefully, but in more dramatic moments, she must repeatedly force. In addition, her timbre is not sufficiently distinct from Sonya Yoncheva’s velvety soprano. Though recently heard in some spinto roles, Ms. Yoncheva is able to sustain the musical line and apportions her vibrato in a stylistically appropriate manner. The Baroque sound is supplied by the Ensemble Amarillis, led by the recorder player Héloïse Gaillard, who are also heard in concert pieces by Francesco Mancini and Francesco Durante.

- Reinoud van Mechelen: “Erbarme dich”
With the ensemble A Nocte Temporis -- Benjamin Alard (organist), Anna Besson (flautist), and Ronan Kernoa (cellist)
J. S. Bach: Cantata No. 22, aria “Mein Jesu, ziehe mich nach dir;” Cantata BWV 96,"Herr Christ, der einige Gottessohn;” Trio Sonata in G major, BWV 1039, Adagio; Partita in A minor for solo flute, BWV 1013, III. Sarabande
Alpha 252 (1 CD)
The young tenor Reinoud van Mechelen is the featured performer on this recording, but admirers of Bach’s music may be equally interested to hear Benjamin Alard playing the organ in Strasbourg’s St. Aurelia’s Church. Along with flautist Anna Besson and cellist Ronan Kernoa, who form the ensemble A Noctis Temporis with founder M. Alard, singer and organist developed the program on this CD to demonstrate “how Bach’s genius is able to express human passions in all their variations.” The group approaches the composer’s works in a very free manner, juxtaposing individual pieces without ever explaining why this aria follows that chorale or this prelude precedes that sarabande. As such, this collection is nothing for purists, but nonetheless it is beautiful to hear. M. van Mechelen’s light, lean tenor is ideally suited to this music, and combined with the sound of the organ, produces impressive effects.

SAVE YOUR MONEY

- Mayr: Amore non soffre opposizioni
Conductor: Franz Hauk
Cast: Giulio Alvise Caselli, Richard Resch, Monika Lichtenegger, Philipp Gaiser, Laura Faig, Josef Zwink, et. al.
Naxos 8.660361-62 (2 CDs)
In addition to founding the Simon Mayr Chorus in 2003, serving on the board of directors of the Simon Mayr Society, and working with the publishing house of Ricordi to produce a complete Mayr addition, the Bavarian conductor and organist Franz Hauk also tried to establish a Mayr Festival in 2011. However, this event never made it past the first year, with the 2013 Festival canceled and a planned revival in Arosa, Switzerland, likewise falling through. This new CD set of Amore non soffre opposizioni, the opera performed at the lone 2011 Festival, is a studio production rather than a live recording of the staged production. Unfortunately, neither the composition nor the cast is particularly distinguished. The plot action tends to drag, and the music only picks up speed in the second act with a richness of melodic invention that reveals Mayr’s talent in orchestration. At the Festival, a number of roles were filled by young singers who undoubtedly had some success within the framework of a staged performance. However, the studio conditions make it evident that nearly all of the soloists lack the technical skills to do full justice to their roles, to say nothing of personality and expressive intensity. Only Laura Faig in the minor role of Gelmina really makes a favorable impression at times with her fresh, youthful lyric soprano. Maestro Hauk does receive a thumbs-up from the reviewer for the circumspection and elegance with which he leads the East-West European Festival Orchestra, which was first assembled for the sole 2011 program.

BOX SETS

Near the end of every year, one can always count on the recording labels plundering their archives to release big box sets in anticipation of holiday sales. As these six compilations indicate, 2016 was no exception.

- Mozart: The New Complete Edition
Decca/Deutsche Grammophon 4830000 (200 CDs)
This may be the Mother of All Box Sets, with its total of two hundred (!) CDs. This package from Universal’s Decca Music Group features the long-awaited new numbering of the Köchel Verzeichnis as well as free online access to scores in the original text, a new biography of the composer, prints for framing, and facsimilies of a song along with Mozart’s letters to his father, the last-named courtesy of the Mozarteum Foundation. The CDs have been sorted into four categories: orchestral music, theater (which I assume means not only his own operas, but arias Mozart wrote for insertion in other theatrical performances), sacred music, and chamber music. The set even includes Wolfgang’s rewrites of compositions by Handel and Bach, over 100 fragments of music, and Mozart’s works that were finished by other composers. The reviewer does have some quibbles about how certain recordings were selected for inclusion here – or, more precisely, why particular recordings weren’t chosen. In recordings of the symphonies, those conducted by Christopher Hogwood, John Eliot Gardiner, and Trevor Pinnock predominate, being integrated to form a cycle, and while they feature historic instruments, their sound becomes a little dry after a while. In contrast, little is heard of wonderful alternatives from Deutsche Grammophon’s catalog, such as Symphonies #39 and #40, conducted by Karl Böhm and Benjamin Britten, respectively. The selection of opera recordings also leans heavily toward Decca’s archives, with few selections from the “golden” production era of Deutsche Grammophon when singers such as Fritz Wunderlich were on that label’s roster. Still, one is positively surprised by some of the inclusions, such as Sir Charles Mackerras’ recording of La Clemenza di Tito with Rainer Trost as the Emperor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s Baden Baden Don Giovanni with Diana Damrau and Rolando Villazón, and Le Nozze di Figaro from Drottningholm led by Arnold Oestman. On the other hand, DG is well represented in Mozart’s early operas, thanks in no small measure to Peter Schreier’s advocacy of these works and strong studio presence in the 1970s.
Of course, all of these goodies come with an impressive price tag, too. Those who want this set must be ready to shell out €399.

- Philip Glass: The Complete Recordings
Sony 88985337612 (24 CDs)
The American composer, who celebrates his 80th birthday at the end of this month, has a very distinctive musical style based on minimalism and what the reviewer describes as “serial preluding” that can become enervating when one listens to it for any length of time. But rather than making the listener reach for the “Off” button, the music challenges him/her to resist the “acoustic penetration.” Mr. Glass made history with his operas Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten, but even more impressive are his organ works, dances, and “uncommonly strong” instrumental pieces such as those for saxophone, his Concerto for Violin, or the large-scale Itaipú in four movements for chorus and orchestra. The last-named is heard on this set in the recording by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus led by the noted choir director Robert Shaw. It, and much of the other material included in this package, comes from the CBS/Columbia archives. The reviewer strongly recommends this set, observing that – depending on the situation – the listener can find stimulation, challenge, or relaxation. Mr. Glass’ music is suited for all, and can help the individual toward a self-awareness of his/her own emotional state.

- Nikolaus Harnoncourt: The Complete Sony Recordings
Sony 88875173752 (61 CDs and 3 DVDs)
A conductor with a very individual interpretive style, Nikolaus Harnoncourt passed away less than a year ago. While he was known for his championing of Baroque music and as a pioneer of historic performance practice, this set documents his strengthened interest in the Romantic repertoire of Brahms, Bruckner, Smetana, and Dvořák in the final decades of his life with recordings from the old RCA catalog. His podium career is represented by works from Bach up to Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, the complete opera recorded in Graz in 2009 with Jonathan Lemalu and Isabelle Kabatu. His great affinity for vocal music is heard in his recordings of Masses and oratorios by Handel, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, Verdi, and Dvořák; one of the DVDs features his 2012 Salzburg Festival performance of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. Other selections of interest here are the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Day concert from 2003, and a documentary titled “Mission Mozart” that shows Maestro Harnoncourt and pianist Lang Lang rehearsing for a concert of two Mozart piano concertos.

- Eugen Jochum: Complete Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon. Volume 1 – Orchestral Works
DG 94796314 (42 CDs)
This coming March also marks the 30th anniversary of the death of German conductor Eugen Jochum, who (among other accomplishments) founded the Hamburg State Orchestra with musicians from the Opera Orchestra and Philharmonic, and served as its General Music Director from 1933-1949. This set, the first installment in what is to be a series devoted to his discography with Deutsche Grammophon, includes the complete symphonies of Beethoven, Bruckner, and Brahms, his famous cycle of Haydn’s “London” symphonies, and many other “lucky finds” – quite a few of remarkable sound quality – that document his unrelenting determination to get to the heart of a work in his interpretation. And it made no difference whether he was leading “his” orchestra, the Bavarian Broadcasting Orchestra, or the Berlin Philharmonic. In comparing Maestro Jochum’s recordings with those of the legendary Herbert von Karajan, the reviewer finds that the former’s readings have the same strong magnetic power in many passages as do the charismatic conductor’s accounts, and even sound more authentic and less artificial. His interpretations seem fresh, even breathtaking, and cast just as much of a spell on the listener.
Those who are looking forward to the continuation of this series with his opera recordings will need to be (very) patient: that volume isn’t due for release until this coming November!

- “Leontyne Price” Prima Donna Assoluta”
Sony Classical 88985311342 (22 CDs)
The great soprano will be celebrating her 90th birthday next month, and to mark the occasion, Sony has released this box set with opera recordings from the RCA/Red Seal archives. The original analog tapes have been remastered and brought up to current technological condition, and the cover photo of Ms. Price is being published here for the first time. The package is a treasure trove for opera enthusiasts, insofar as they don’t already own at least some of these recordings. Made in the decade between 1962 and 1972, they provide a journey into the time when big, distinctive voices were the norm (even if stylistic precision occasionally left something to be desired). As partners for the soprano, singers such as Franco Corelli (Don José in Carmen) were a guarantee of pure passion and vocal splendor. Much has been written about Ms. Price’s unmistakable, unusually dusky and exotic-sounding voice, and these recordings allow the listener to examine it closely: the gleaming top, the effortless rise into the upper register, the power, secure coloratura, and natural diction. Above all, there is the incomparable manner in which her voice transmits emotion, as one hears in her nearly hysterical Tosca during the scenes with Sherrill Milnes’ Scarpia and Plácido Domingo’s Cavaradossi, where she also makes an impression with the beauty of her singing. Her rendition of Amelia’s Act III aria from Un Ballo in Maschera is filled with despair and dark foreboding, while her account of Aida’s “Ritorna vincitor!” conveys the conflicted Ethiopian Princess’ agitation. Aida was probably her most important role and the one in which she made debuts in London, Verona, Vienna, Milan, Salzburg, and the Met; she’s heard here in the recording conducted by Erich Leinsdorf. At the Met, she sang in approximately 200 performances, often with the Messrs. Milnes and Domingo as her partners. Those two gentlemen are heard here in the recordings of Il Trovatore, Aida, and Il Tabarro (along with the aforementioned Tosca), and Mr. Milnes sings Guglielmo to her Fiordiligi in Cosi fan tutte. Eight of the 10 operas included in this set are conducted by either Maestro Leinsdorf or Zubin Mehta.

- Kathleen Battle: The Complete Sony Recordings
Sony 88985381362 (10 CDs)
On the afternoon of 13 November 2016, Kathleen Battle stood on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House for the first time in 22 years as part of her concert tour, “Underground Railroad – A Spiritual Journey,” with a program of Spirituals and Gospel music accompanied by chorus and piano. At the conclusion, the audience in the sold-out house responded with enthusiastic cheering. It was a marked contrast to events in 1994, when Met General Manager Joseph Volpe fired her for “unprofessional conduct” prior to the premiere of a new production of Donizetti’s La fille du régiment. Diva behavior aside, Ms. Battle was among the most sought-after international stars in the late 20th century, and these recordings capture her beautiful, charming voice – whether in Bach, Handel, Duke Ellington, or Vangelis, or the complete Mahler Fourth Symphony led by Lorin Maazel. Also included here is her 1992 Carnegie Hall Christmas concert with Frederica von Stade. The only disappointment with this set is the underrepresentation of works by Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, and Richard Strauss, in all of which the soprano excelled.

Clayton
January 3rd, 2017, 03:28 PM
Dardanus straight into the shopping basket! I'm a little surprised by the price of the La Scuola de’ Gelosi, so will put that one on hold...

Clayton
January 3rd, 2017, 03:33 PM
and while I'm whingeing about GBP27 for a DHM cd, I'm trying to justify the GBP90 for the Eugen Jochum set... (and the rest of the money for the following series)

Soave_Fanciulla
January 3rd, 2017, 05:49 PM
Dardanus straight into the shopping basket! I'm a little surprised by the price of the La Scuola de’ Gelosi, so will put that one on hold...

You won't be disappointed! Florian Sempey is fantastic!

MAuer
January 4th, 2017, 02:03 PM
and while I'm whingeing about GBP27 for a DHM cd, I'm trying to justify the GBP90 for the Eugen Jochum set... (and the rest of the money for the following series)

At least you’re not considering that €399 Mozart Edition!

MAuer
January 7th, 2017, 12:29 PM
On the very day I posted the review summaries from the January issue, what should arrive in the mail but the long-lost December issue of Das Opernglas? (http://www.opernglas.de/) Interestingly, there are no operas among the new releases critiqued in this issue – only recital CDs of opera/concert arias, Lieder, and some crossover material. I’ve omitted review summaries for the new Christmas albums, as we’re a bit late for that at this point.

RECOMMENDED

- Elīna Garanča: “Revive”
Conductor/orchestra: Roberto Abbado, Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana
Arias by Verdi, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Cilea, Ponchielli, Massenet, Saint-Saëns, Berlioz, Ambroise Thomas, and Mussorgsky
Deutsche Grammophon 4795937 (1 CD)
The Latvian mezzo’s latest album is devoted to “strong women in weak moments,” according to the accompanying booklet. And they are a diverse group of ladies – Eboli, Preziosilla, Santuzza, Dalila, Mignon, Dido, Marina (Boris Godunov), Laura (La Gioconda), Massenet’s Hérodiade, Leoncavallo’s Musetta, and a rarity, Saint-Saëns’ Anne Boleyn from Henry VIII. Those who remember Ms. Garanča from earlier years when she specialized in Mozart and bel canto roles will be surprised by how dark and substantial her voice has become. Her vocal production is broader now and she likes to make use of the chest register when the music dips low. Nonetheless, she has preserved the necessary flexibility for pieces such as Eboli’s Veil Song, and she can seamlessly scale back her sound to piano even in the highest reaches. All of the characters benefit from this dramatic approach, especially since she knows how to introduce other tones when required, such as the melancholy with which she infuses Dido’s farewell from Les Troyens. She has superb partners in conductor Roberto Abbado and the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana

- Christiane Karg and Romina Basso: “Mitologie”
Conductor/orchestra: Alan Curtis, Il Complesso Barocco
Arias and duets by Handel
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88875199812 (1 CD)
This CD is the final recording of Handel’s music by the Baroque specialist Alan Curtis, who passed away in Florence in 2015. As the title suggests, the selections here are taken from the composer’s works dealing with Greek and Roman mythology, and there are many wonderful pieces to be discovered – for example, the aria, “Felicissima quest’ alma” from the cantata La terra è liberata (HWV 122), which is an “absolute earworm,” according to the reviewer, especially as sung by Christiane Karg with her clear, light, silvery soprano that sounds “ethereally beautiful” and inspired. She and mezzo Romina Basso also deliver a brilliant rendition of a duet from the infrequently heard cantata Echeggiate, festiggiate numi eterni (HWV 119), which Handel wrote shortly before his first arrival in London. Maestro Curtis elicits spirited, lively playing from the period ensemble Il Complesso Barocco.

- Filippo Mineccia: “The Jommelli Album”
Conductor/orchestra: Javier Ulises Illán, Nereydas
Note 1/Pan Classics PC 10352 (1 CD)
This recording of arias from operas and sacred works by the Neapolitan composer Niccolò Jommelli by countertenor Filippo Mineccia gets a thumbs-up from the reviewer. For a number of years the music director at the court of Duke Eugen Carl of Württemberg, Jommelli composed several operas during his time in Stuttgart and Ludwigsburg, among them La Clemenza di Tito, set to the same Metastasio libretto that Mozart would later use for his opera about the Emperor Vespasian. Mr. Mineccia has chosen one of the arias from that work, “Se mai senti spirarti sul volto,” for this disc, and gives a totally convincing account of this melodious, beguiling piece. He makes an impressive advocate for the composer with selections from the operas Pelope and Bajazette, and in the sacred works, he uses his well-focused, superbly produced voice to optimal effect. The singer receives enthusiastic support from conductor Javier Ulise Illán and the orchestra Nereydas.

- Schumann: Dichterliebe/Selected Songs
Mauro Peter (tenor), Helmut Deutsch (pianist)
Sony Classical 88985338492 (1 CD)
If one is going to make a recording of Schumann Lieder, then the cycle Dichterliebe simply belongs on it – “even if it’s been done a thousand times before,” tenor Mauro Peter asserts. And, in fact, he doesn’t need to fear comparisons to the competition. His lyric instrument has an exceptionally beautiful timbre and is produced in an exemplary manner. The voice’s expansion is sometimes limited, but he knows how to compensate for this deficit through his well thought-out and still natural interpretation. He begins the cycle with youthful rapture, gradually adding new colors: disappointment, derision, and finally resignation. He carefully explores the ambiguities in Heine’s text without ever sounding mannered, and he has an “inspired” partner at the piano in Helmut Deutsch.

- Peter Schreier: Mozart Lieder
With Erik Werba (pianist)
Belvedere BCD08022 (1 CD)
The tenor from Dresden made regular appearances in Salzburg during his performing career, including at the city’s annual Mozart Week which has taken place since 1956 around 27 January. This live performance is from 25 January 1978, with Herr Schreier partnered by the “doyen” of Lied accompanists, Erik Werba. The 17 songs included here offer an interesting overview of the composer’s creative periods, with the well-known “Veilchen” (KV 476) and “Traumbild” (KV 530) among the selections, along with the enchanting “Sehnsucht nach dem Frühlinge” (KV 596), the melody of which Mozart borrowed from the slow movement of his final piano concerto (KV 595). Herr Schreier sings this material with such a fresh, youthful voice that it’s pure joy to listen to him. He creates the impression of spontaneity and naturalness, even though every syllable in these songs has been carefully thought-through and refined. The reviewer finds this to be one of the most beautiful recordings in the tenor’s discography.

- Jessye Norman: Salzburger Liederabend
With James Levine (pianist)
Includes Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder, Schoenberg’s Brettl-Lieder, and selected songs by Strauss and Tchaikovsky
Orfeo C 926 161 B (1 CD)
Jessye Norman likewise proves herself to be an accomplished Lied interpreter in this live recording of a concert from the 1991 Salzburg Festival. With this program, she relies less on her “jubilant” soprano high notes and more on the mezzo quality of her midrange. She seems to have an unlimited palette of nuances and shadings, from gentle melancholy to operatic emphasis, the most intimate tenderness to bitter irony. She displays artistry of the highest level at the beginning of “Im Treibhaus” (Wesendonck Lieder), when she suddenly imbues her opulent voice with pale tints, or in her pointed, diseuse-like delivery of the Brettl-Lieder. She has congenial support at the keyboard from James Levine, who can react to the singer in seconds and draws the right sound from the piano for every one of her vocal colors.

- Felicitas and Judith Erb: Mendelssohn and Handel Duets
With Doriana Tchakarova (pianist)
ARS 38 201 (1 CD)
This delightful album features two siblings singing Lieder by two siblings, with sopranos Felicitas and Judith Erb performing duets by Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn. The results are definitely worth hearing, with these largely unknown pieces revealing an extraordinary, beguiling charm. The Mendelssohns had a keen appreciation for literary quality, and as a rule, selected texts by such greats as Goethe, Heine, Ludwig Hölty, and August von Platen. Pianist Doriana Tchakarova’s nimble accompaniment adds to the wonderfully airy, colorful sound of the 32 duets included here. (Curiously, the reviewer doesn’t even mention the part of the sisters’ program devoted to Handel. Space limitations, perhaps?)

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Anett Fritsch: Mozart Arias
Conductor/orchestra: Alessandro de Marchi, Munich Radio Orchestra
Orfeo C 903 161 A (1 CD)
The reviewer likens soprano Anett Fritsch’s traversal of Mozart roles in this album as a “Parforceritt” – i.e., a feat of concentrated effort. The listener hears her as both Fiordiligi and Despina, the Countess, Susanna, and Cherubino, as well as Donna Elvira and in two of the composer’s most demanding concert arias. With all too monotonous, forceful accompaniment from Alessandro de Marchi and the Munich Radio Orchestra, Ms. Fritsch presents brief portraits of women (and a couple of young men) in moments of intense emotional upheaval, with tempos often driven to the upper limits of the possible. Even usually tranquil arias such the Countess’ “Porgi amor,” Susanna’s “Deh vieni, non tardar,” and Fiordiligi’s “Per pietà” are all dramatically charged. The singer’s intention of demonstrating the variety of Mozart’s characterizations is undercut by this approach; time is often simply lacking to give nuanced portrayals of these figures. And that’s really a shame, because from a purely vocal standpoint, the soprano is an outstanding Mozartean. Her striking voice is attractive throughout its range, registers are flawlessly blended, there’s no sharpness on top, and coloratura causes her as little difficulty as the frequently required interval leaps.

CROSSOVER

- Roberto Alagna: “Malèna”
Conductor/orchestra: Yvan Cassar, London Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 4814733 (1 CD)
This album takes its title from the name of the young daughter of Roberto Alagna and soprano Aleksandra Kurzak. The tenor credits the little girl with “bringing back (his) youth” and “extending (his) happiness,” a joy he wants to share “with the greatest number of people possible.” And he aims to do that with this disc of new (and some familiar) Sicilian and Neapolitan songs, with most of the new ones composed by his brother Frederico. His voice still possesses its familiar radiance, though it can’t be said that he’s really challenged by the 17 pieces heard here, what the reviewer describes as “nice entertainment music.” However, when M. Alagna’s singing veers into the schmaltzy, as in “Core ‘ngrato,” things really reach the limit. The popular “O sole mio” is included, too, but in a more moderate rendition. The “so-called” (reviewer’s terminology) London Orchestra is led by Yvan Cassar, who also arranged this material.

- Anne Sophie von Otter: “so many things”
With the string quartet Brooklyn Rider
Naïve V 5436 (1 CD)
One might be well advised to give this CD a miss. Certainly, Anne Sophie von Otter sings well, her mezzo flexible and strongly expressive, and it’s amazing what sort of effects she is able to achieve. The problem is the material. These are all songs by well-known pop singers such as Sting, Björk, and Kate Bush arranged for string quartet, with lyrics that are loaded down with meaning and come across as quite pompous.

- Carlos Mena: “Under the Shadow”
With Ghalmia Senouri (contralto); Disfonik Orchestra, Jacques Beaud
Mirare MIR 300 (1 CD)
In the booklet accompanying this CD, the electric bass player Jacques Beaud, who is also the music director of the ensemble Disfonik Orchestra (horn, saxophone, Hammond organ, piano, and drums), says he wants to present “a very personal approach to the meeting between classical music and jazz.” Jazz clearly has the advantage in the encounter, as the classical pieces chosen – Bach’s Cello Suite #2, Fauré’s Requiem, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Schumann’s Dichterliebe, etc. – serve only as headings. The texts, sung by countertenor Carlos Mena and contralto Ghalmia Senouri, come primarily from the pen of (surprise!) Jacques Beaud. Those who are fond of this type of crossover will undoubtedly enjoy this recording.

JOSÉ CARRERAS BOX SETS

- José Carreras: the legendary tenor
Includes opera/operetta arias, Spanish songs, and musical arrangements
Warner 9029592301 (3 CDs)

- José Carreras: “A Life in Music”
Selections from opera, sacred music, musicals, and other pieces
Sony 88985332012 (2 CDs)

On 5 December, the great Catalan tenor celebrated his 70th birthday – reason enough for Warner and Sony to dig around in the archives and produce these two CD sets.
The first of the three discs in Warner’s set is devoted almost exclusively to arrangements, with famous melodies set to sentimental texts. Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto gets turned into “Love is a Melody,” Beethoven’s Pathétique furnishes the tune for “I Remember You,” music from Brahms’ Third Symphony is heard as “Close to Me,” an excerpt from Wagner’s Tannhäuser becomes “Europa,” and so on. The second disc is comprised in large measure of Spanish songs, with the third CD containing arias from a large selection of operas and operettas, among them Puccini’s Tosca and La Bohème, Verdi’s Rigoletto and Macbeth, and Lehár’s Die lustige Witwe. Carreras fans who like this sort of compilation will receive much enjoyment from the set.
The tenor himself personally selected the contents of Sony’s double album. On the first disc, he mixes popular songs such as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Some Enchanted Evening” and Cesarini’s “Firenze sogna” with salon pieces including Elgar’s “In the Dawn” and Grieg’s “I love Thee.” The second CD is almost entirely filled with Italian and French opera arias, to which are added a beautifully sung account of Mozart’s “Ave, verum corpus” and Schubert’s “Mille Cherubini in coro.” There is very little duplication between Warner’s and Sony’s sets, which should please Mr. Carreras’ countless fans.

MAuer
January 11th, 2017, 12:15 PM
Summary of reviews from the January, 2017, issue of Opernwelt (http://www.opernwelt.de/):

RECOMMENDED

- Handel: Hercules
Conductor: William Christie
Director: Luc Bondy
Cast: William Shimell, Joyce Di Donato, Ingela Bohlin, Toby Spence, Malena Ernman, Simon Kirkbride
BelAir Classiques BAC 213 (2 DVDs)
With its blending of opera and oratorio traditions, Hercules was a puzzle to Handel’s contemporaries, but today is regarded as one of his most exciting works and well-suited to the technological capabilities of the modern theater. Luc Bondy’s production of this musical drama for the 2003 Aix-en-Provence Festival was the only one of Handel’s theatrical compositions he ever directed, and was subsequently mounted in a number of other opera houses. This new DVD comes from the 2004 staging at the Opéra national de Paris. Bondy updated the action to the present and set it within wartime, as evinced by the destroyed statues and Hercules’ appearance in a modern military uniform. The blood still staining his hands indicates he’s just come from the battlefield. Otherwise, though, the Regisseur avoided obvious references to current events and concentrated on the tense relationship between Hercules and his wife Dejanira, a woman wracked by jealousy. The latter is a parade role for Joyce Di Donato, who makes the depths of this figure vocally and dramatically convincing in an uncommonly powerful way. The other cast members are also outstanding, with William Shimell a virile Hercules in every respect. Toby Spence portrays the hero’s son Hyllus as a disturbed young man, while soprano Ingela Bohlin (Iole) is able to assert herself against Ms. Di Donato’s towering presence. Malena Ernman’s performance makes one forget that Handel only boosted the role of Lichas as a favor to a singer friend. In this production, the chorus provides commentary on events, and under the baton of William Christie, the orchestra and choristers of Les Arts Florissants carry the expressive force of Handel’s music to its limits.

- Hérold: Le pré aux clercs (The Clerks’ Meadow)
Conductor: Paul McCreesh
Cast: Marie Lenormand, Michael Spyres, Marie-Ève Munger, Emiliano Gonzáles Toro, Éric Huchet, Christian Helmer, Jeanne Crousaud
Ediciones Singulares Collection French Opera ES 1025 (2 CDs)
Like Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, Louis-Ferdinand Hérold’s Les pré aux clercs revolves around tensions between Catholics and Protestants in 16th century France that culminate in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre; the figure of Marguerite of Valois is present in both, and an act in each opera takes place in the aforementioned Clerks’ Meadow. But while Les Huguenots ends in tragedy, the pair of lovers survives to make their escape at the end of Hérold’s opera. Following its world premiere in 1832, Le pré aux clercs became one of the most frequently performed operas in Paris and held on to that distinction until 1949, after which it wasn’t heard again until its revival in 2015. This studio recording, made in conjunction with that revival, makes one understand the work’s popularity. Its sparkling, playfully ironic approach is reminiscent of Rossini’s buffo élan and the characteristic sound of his French comic operas as exemplified by Le Comte d’Ory. The reviewer observes that the way from Rossini to Offenbach is much shorter than usually thought, and incomprehensible without Hérold. Led by Paul McCreesh, Lisbon’s Gulbenkian Foundation Orchestra is in top form, their playing combining springy elegance, a fine sense for melancholic shading, effervescent rhythm, and surprising instrumentation effects. With the exception of tenor Michael Spyres (Baron de Mergy), all of the soloists are native French speakers, and listening to them, one forgets that today’s standardized vocal training doesn’t provide the best foundation for such nimble “conversation pieces” with spoken dialogue, which has been only slightly shortened here. In sum, this is a pleasure to listen to.

- Elīna Garanča: “Revive”
Conductor/orchestra: Roberto Abbado, Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana
Arias by Verdi, Mascagni, Leoncavallo, Cilea, Ponchielli, Massenet, Saint-Saëns, Berlioz, Ambroise Thomas, and Mussorgsky
Deutsche Grammophon 4795937 (1 CD)
After some nitpicking about the album’s concept of “strong women in weak moments,” which he deems nothing more than a label (why is Eboli’s cheerful Veil Song included instead of her dramatic, self-critical “O don fatale?”), and references to Gemma Bellincioni and Claudia Muzio (whose style, he concedes, was legitimate but is now outdated), the reviewer actually finds a lot to like in Elīna Garanča’s new CD. Whether in Santuzza’s “Voi lo sapete,” the aria of the jealous Princesse de Bouillon (Adriana Lecouvreur), Laura’s “Stella del marinar” from La Gioconda, or Musetta’s despairing “È destin” from Leoncavallo’s La Bohème, the Latvian mezzo takes care to combine verismo and bel canto virtues. This is even more pronounced when she ventures into soprano territory with Adriana Lecouvreur’s “Io son l’umile ancella,” which she invests with subtle messa di voce nuances. Her “captivating velvet-and-silk” timbre enhances her account of Dalila’s “Amour, viens aider ma faiblesse” (without any weakness in the low register) as well as Mignon’s “Connais-tu, la pays” or Charlotte’s “Aires de larmes” from Werther. If her rendition of Dido’s “Adieu, fière cite” (Les Troyens) doesn’t have the burning despair of Janet Baker’s, it still makes one long to hear Mme. Garanča sing this role in a staged production.

- Marianne Crebassa: “Oh, Boy!”
Conductor/orchestra: Marc Minkowski, Mozarteum Orchestra
Arias for castrati or breeches roles
Warner/Erato 019295927622 (1 CD)
“Oh, boy!” might be the reaction of the opera enthusiast who acquires this marvelous new album by the French mezzo in which she portrays male characters, whether originally sung by men or by women en travestie. More specifically, these are adolescent males such as Mozart’s Cherubino who are experiencing all of the emotional turmoil that accompanies physical maturation, and she does them full justice with her captivatingly exuberant singing. Her trim, graceful voice has a drier quality than those of Mme. Garanča or Joyce Di Donato (the reviewer even resorts to comparison with “extra brut” Champagne). Her “stupendous” technical resources stand her in good stead in the coloratura passages of Orphée’s “Amour, viens rendre à mon âme,” Cecilio’s “In tenero momento” from Mozart’s Lucio Silla, or Urbain’s “Nobles Seigneurs, salut” from Les Huguenots. Her timbre has the ideal colors for Offenbach’s Nicklausse and Fantasio, Gounod’s Stéphano (Roméo et Juliette) and Siebel, and Prince Charmant from Massenet’s Cendrillon. It’s a joy to hear all of these selections delivered in flawless French, and she receives fine support from conductor Marc Minkowski and the Mozarteum Orchestra.

- Emalie Savoy: “A Portrait”
Conductor/orchestra: Matthias Foremny, Brandenburg State Orchestra, Frankfurt on the Oder
With Jonathan Ware (pianist)
Arias from Iolanta, Rusalka, and Der Freischütz; song cycles by Ravel and Barber
Genuin GEN 16436 (1 CD)
This is a wonderful introductory album from the young American soprano, who drew raves from reviewers when she participated in the 2015 ARD Singing Competition. At the time, she made a tremendous impression with the dramatic immediacy of her singing and the luminosity of her lyric instrument, which even then seemed on the verge of becoming a jugendlich dramatische – and in fact, she’s since sung Strauss’ Ariadne. This disc doesn’t seem to follow any concept in the selection of contents, but rather is intended to demonstrate the breadth of the singer’s ability. And it is “extraordinary,” according to the reviewer. In Ravel’s Shéhérezade, she impresses right from the first song (“Asie”) with her rich, glowing voice, then employs finely shimmering colors for the shifting mood of “La flûte enchantée.” In the third song, she finds the right tone for the experienced woman who feels drawn to the handsome young stranger, but does not lose herself in an amour fou. Ms. Savoy sings in idiomatic French, if not quite as eloquently as native speakers such as Régine Crespin. She summons a glowing passion for the arias from Iolanta and Rusalka, and gives an account of Agathe’s “Wie naht mir die Schlummer” characterized by a touching intimacy as well as exuberant expression. In the opera excerpts, she is ably partnered by the Brandenburg State Orchestra led by Matthias Foremny, while pianist Jonathan Ware joins her for the Ravel and Barber songs. Her interpretation of the latter is no less impressive than that of Cheryl Studer in her recording of many of Barber’s art songs.

- “Portrait -- Maureen Forrester, 1955-1963”
With Michael Raucheisen, Hertha Klust, and Felix Schröder (pianists)
Songs by Schubert, Schumann, Mahler, Wagner, Loewe, Brahms, Britten, Barber, and Poulenc; sacred songs by C. P. E. Bach and J. W. Franck; excerpts from Haydn’s cantata Arianna a Naxos
Audite 21.437 (3 CDs)
This compilation of Lied recordings made by the Canadian contralto with RIAS Berlin from 1955 to 1963 has been selected as the January issue’s CD of the Month. Maureen Forrester was in every respect an exceptional artist, with a genuine alto of uncommon fullness and expansiveness that was attractive throughout its range and which was paired with nearly perfect technique – registers seamlessly blended and a flawless messa di voce. She was a model of relaxed, supple singing with a voice that could flow luxuriously or dance nimbly, and she had a wealth of tonal shadings and the finest nuances at her command. Her Lieder performances maintained the balance between strict classical form and interpretive expressivity. After her first European tour in 1955, she spent an extended time in Berlin to work on Lieder singing with Michael Raucheisen, and the recordings made in conjunction with those studies are among the earliest in her discography and take up about half of this set. Considering the material, they are also among the most memorable. From both a vocal and interpretive standpoint, it’s astonishing to hear the fully mature impression created by the 25 year-old Ms. Forrester. One also admires her exemplary German diction and her insight into the intellectual content of the texts. Herr Raucheisen had not selected popular pieces for her to sing, but opted instead for little-known songs. It’s not Schubert’s setting of “Gretchen am Spinnrad” one hears on this recording, but those by Wagner and Carl Loewe. Likewise, she doesn’t sing Schumann’s setting of Mary Stuart’s poems in German translation, but the original French version which she had performed in Paris during her tour. For the first time, one also hears the Wesendonck Lieder with their original piano accompaniment, where the singer’s emphasis on clarity and intimacy do full justice to Mathilde’s verses. The third disc in this set is devoted to French songs, and the contralto’s lively, captivating interpretations and her ability to “paint with the voice,” united with Hertha Klust’s “pointed” keyboard accompaniment, make the miniatures of Poulenc’s cycle Le Travail du Peintre into “little treasures.” The reviewer only expresses regret that the booklet included with the set doesn’t provide more background information on the French texts. For example, Samuel Barber’s Mélodies Passagères, set to verses by Rilke, were dedicated to Poulenc, while Poulenc dedicated his cycle La Fraîcheur et le feu, with verses by Paul Eduard, to Stravinsky. Poulenc’s other Eduard setting, Le Travail du Peintre, was commissioned for a particular (female) singer.

- Braunfels: Orchestral Songs, Vol. 1
Conductor/orchestra: Hansjörg Albrecht, Staatskapelle Weimar
Soloists: Valentina Farkas (soprano), Klaus-Florian Vogt (tenor), Michael Volle (baritone)
Oehms Classics OC 1846 (1 CD)

- Braunfels: Orchestral Songs, Vol. 2
Conductor/orchestra: Hansjörg Albrecht, Orchestra of the Berlin Concert House
With Camilla Nylund, Genia Kühmeier, and Ricarda Merbeth (sopranos)
Oehms Classics OC 1847 (1 CD)
The reviewer treats these two volumes of Braunfels’ Orchestral Songs as a unit and recommends both, though he also indicates that allowances must be made for the two of the sopranos on the second volume. Several of the songs actually come from his opera Die Vögel (The Birds), while the longest selection, Don Juan (op. 34) isn’t vocal music at all, but a 35-minute orchestral “romantic phantasmagoria” (composer’s description) on the Champagne Aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Braunfels’ style was rooted in the Late Romanticism of the turn of the 20th century, and he maintained it throughout much of his life, as evidenced here by the Four Japanese Songs (op. 62), written in 1945. Those songs, like the Three Chinese Songs (op. 19) from 1914, are set to translations by Hans Bethge that were also the source for Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. Other selections included here are the Two Hölderlin Songs (op. 27) and Auf ein Soldatengrab (On a Soldier’s Grave, op. 26), both for baritone and orchestra; Five Romantic Songs (op. 58) set to texts by Brentano and Eichendorf; The Death of Cleopatra (op. 59), with the Queen’s final monologue from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra; and Die Gott minnende Seele (The God-loving soul, op. 53), with four texts by the medieval mystic Mechthild von Magdeburg, all for soprano and orchestra. (The tenor is heard in the Abschied vom Walde (Farewell to the Forest), one of the excerpts from Die Vögel.) In all of these pieces, Braunfels maintains a lyrical, longing tone and never crosses the line into musical drama, even in The Death of Cleopatra, while supporting his soloists with a finely woven net of subtle, atmospheric orchestral colors that he uses in a more restrained fashion than his competitor Strauss. In “Die Gott minnende Seele,” composed during the half-Jewish Braunfels’ internal exile imposed by the Nazis, he creates an intimate cycle of Christian Minnesong with a reduced chamber configuration (seven winds and nine strings), austere harmonies, and a strongly imitative movement that suggests the Schoenberg school. With its imaginative instrumentation, Don Juan features brilliant, virtuosic variations on “Fin ch’han dal vino” that are a treat for both musicians and listeners. Among the soloists, the best impression is made by soprano Valentina Farkas with her secure coloratura in the Prologue of the Nightingale from Die Vögel. Soprano Genia Kühmeier draws favorable notice by the manner in which she captures the forbidding rapture of Die Gott minnende Seele, and there are excellent contributions from baritone Michael Volle in Hölderlin’s songs glorifying heroic death, which he approaches contemplatively, downplaying the pathos in his declamation. Tenor Klaus-Florian Vogt offers elegant singing in Abscheid vom Walde. The allowances must be made for Camilla Nylund, whose rendition of the Three Chinese Songs and Five Romantic Songs lacks suppleness, and Ricarda Merbeth, who delivers The Death of Cleopatra with marked vibrato. Hansjörg Albrecht is on the podium for both recordings, leading the Weimar Staatskapelle in volume 1 and the Berlin Concert House Orchestra in volume 2. These discs make an important contribution to the rediscovery of Braunfels’ long-neglected works and confirm his status as one of the most significant voices of the Late Romantic style.

- Hans Jürgen von der Wense, 1894-1966
Conductors/orchestra: Johannes Kalitzke and Philippe Reemtsma; Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
With Holger Falk (baritone) and Steffen Schleiermacher (pianist)
Es-Dur ES 2069 (1 CD)
This recording of works by the German composer Hans Jürgen von der Wense is as hard to classify as the man himself, who is described by the reviewer as a “brilliant free spirit who began everything and finished nothing . . . An anarchic poet who made verses with (musical) notes and composed with syllables, words, and sentences.” Up until now, only a few specialists were aware of (and enjoyed) the compositions of von der Wense, who died 50 years ago in Göttingen. That may change as a result of the pianist Steffen Schleiermacher, baritone Holger Falk, and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra led by Johannes Kalitzke and Philipp Reemtsma joining forces to produce this CD devoted to the nonconformist native of East Prussia (now Poland). In addition to selections for piano and the Yeats-Lieder, the album includes his 1919 “Music for Piano, Clarinet, and Suspended Metal Colander” as well as Mr. Reemtsma reading one of his letters, a disguised manifesto and general broadside against early 20th century music by the self-proclaimed Dadaist. That was one of many “masks” worn by von der Wense during his lifetime (he was also a poet, photographer, and hiker) as he tried in vain to escape the times in which he lived. With the Lieder, composed in the early part of the century, and the Two Piano Pieces after Wilhelm Klemm, written in 1962, this recording provides a collage of von der Wense’s creative efforts and the “erratic, polemical power of his musical aphorisms” that remains undimmed to this day.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Édouard Lalo/Arthur Coquard: La Jacquerie
Conductor: Patrick Davin
Cast: Véronique Gens, Nora Gubisch, Charles Castronovo, Boris Pinkhasovich, Christophoros Stamboglis, Patrick Bolleire, Enguerrand de Hys
Ediciones Singulares French Opera Collection ES 1023 (1 CD)
Lalo had only completed one act of this opera when he died in 1892, and Arthur Coquard, a student of César Franck, was asked to complete it by the director of the Monte Carlo Opera. After the premiere there in 1895, there were only two other performances of the work in the same year before it disappeared into the archives. As the reviewer observes, Coquard is one of those composers who has probably deservedly been forgotten; his work reflects solid craftsmanship, but little inspiration. La Jacquerie, with a libretto by Édouard Blau and Simone Arnaud, deals with a 14th century peasants’ revolt (called the Jacquerie) in the village of Saint Len de Cérent. The hero Robert (presumably a peasant) is in love with the noblewoman Blanche de Saint Croix, and after he is mortally wounded while defending her from the mob, dies in her arms. There is no attempt by the librettists to probe the revolt’s underlying social issues, which are pushed aside so that at the end, the violent excesses of unscrupulous revolutionaries look worse than the injustices of the feudal system. From a musical perspective, this work does provide a look into Lalo’s recycling of decisive passages from his earlier opera Fiesque (based on the Schiller play that was likely the source material for the drama on which Piave’s libretto for Simon Boccanegra was based), and it adds to our knowledge of French opera in the late 19th century. But even the high quality of the concert performance in Montpellier heard on this recording can’t prevent one from asking whether it was really necessary to resurrect this piece, only a quarter of which was written by the composer of Le Roi d’Ys. Where the quality of the actual music is concerned, there is no comparison with the many other revivals undertaken by the “tireless” Fondazione Palazzetto Bru Zane – including Hérold’s Le pré aux clercs.

- Puccini: Manon Lescaut
Conductor: Marco Armiliato
Cast: Anna Netrebko, Yusif Eyvazov, Armando Piña, Carlos Chausson, Benjamin Bernheim, Szilvia Vörös, et. al.
Deutsche Grammophon 94796828 (2 CDs)
The weak point here is Yusif Eyvazov’s Des Grieux, whose vocal and dramatic defects are made all the plainer in comparison to Anna Netrebko’s beautifully sung, finely nuanced portrayal of the title heroine. The tenor’s tremulous beginning of “Tra voi belle,” contrasted with Benjamin Bernheim’s marvelous Edmondo, suggests the latter would have sung the short aria more elegantly. Mr. Eyvazov reminds the reviewer of the beefy-voiced tenors Nikolai Nikolov and Dimiter Uzunov who were once quite popular in Vienna, but needed an act (or two) before they could sing freely and passionately. The Azerbaijani singer tends to rely on an all-purpose expressivity; he has neither a ringing mezza voce nor a fluid cantabile, to say nothing of a radiant top for the high B at the end of “Guardate, pazzo son.” It’s a whole different story with Mme. Netrebko, whose voice has gained in both fullness and color. In the aria, “In quelle trine morbide,” in the pain-filled phrases of the love duet, as well as in the lament of the fourth act, she impresses with her captivating singing much in the same way that Renata Tebaldi, Montserrat Caballé, and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa did earlier. Of course, the reviewer adds, those who want to experience a Manon who is “naïve and at the same time sly, perfidious and lovable, provocative and spiritual, horrifying and charming” (quoting de Maupassant) should listen to Licia Albanese, preferably in the 1956 Met performance conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos, with Jussi Björling as a stellar Des Grieux. Among the smaller roles in this recording, the dark-toned mezzo Szilvia Vörös gives a striking rendition of the singer’s little madrigal, “Sulla vetta,” though baritone Armando Piña lacks the requisite self-satisfied cynicism in his arioso, “Sei splendida e lucente,” such as one hears from Robert Merrill in the aforementioned Met performance. Perhaps not surprisingly, the reviewer also prefers Maestro Mitropoulos’ interpretation to that of Marco Armiliato on the podium of the Munich Radio Orchestra. While the former knew how to keep Puccini’s fluctuating tempos in motion, the latter only manages to hint that the entire fourth act is a “Tristan-esque lament,” in which many phrases – even the slower ones – are “charged with kinetic energy.”

- Anett Fritsch: Mozart Arias
Conductor/orchestra: Alessandro de Marchi, Munich Radio Orchestra
Arias from Le Nozze di Figaro, Cosi fan tutte, and Don Giovanni; concert arias “Misera, dove son?” (KV 369), “Bella mia fiamma” (KV 528)
Orfeo C 903 161 A (1 CD)
The reviewer is generally not very impressed by this album, finding Ms. Fritsch’s soprano lacking a sufficient variety of tonal colors to give credibility to the figures she portrays (Fiordiligi, Zerlina, Countess Almaviva, Susanna, Cherubino, and Donna Elvira), though she does compensate for this to a great extent by richly nuanced interpretations. She clearly comes up against her limits in the concert aria, “Bella mia fiamma,” with imprecise intonation in the slower section, and the upswing and intensification in the rapid portion causing her to force. She’s up against her limits again in Fiordiligi’s arias, where she manages all the notes but must expend considerable effort in the process. Her vibrato becomes “restless” on individual notes, and her voice occasionally slips out of control. She sounds most comfortable in Cherubino’s arias, which pose no difficulties in the upper register and allow her to focus on characterization. She does grasp the importance of appoggiaturas in the performance of this music, and shows some willingness to occasionally depart from the written score. Although Alessandro de Marchi is currently one of the leading advocates of historic performance practice, the musicians of the Munich Radio Orchestra – though playing at a very high standard – seem to follow him only half-heartedly from the traditional path.

- Maria Bengtsson: "Mozart"
Conductor/orchestra: Bertrand de Billy, Chamber Orchestra of Lausanne
Arias from Idomeneo, Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro, and Die Zauberflöte
Dabringhaus & Grimm MDG 940 1973-6 (1 CD)
Unlike Ms. Fritsch, Maria Bengtsson usually confines herself to a single character from each of the operas included on her disc of Mozart arias – the exception being Idomeneo, where Elettra’s “Idol mio” joins Ilia’s three arias. From the Trojan Princess’ “Padre, germani,” the first selection on the CD, Ms. Bengtsson adopts an elegiac tonal color and maintains it throughout the rest of her program. Although Donna Anna’s “Or sai chi l’onore” gains an important facet with this treatment, it also loses intensity in consequence. In Fiordiligi’s arias, there is no trace of the ambiguity Mozart and da Ponte intended – she’s serious, but not too serious. But, unlike Ms. Fritsch, the Swedish soprano displays secure, rounded tone and has no problems with the low passages. Still, listening to her is not an unalloyed pleasure. On disc, her voice sounds indirect and lacking both color and luminosity. Characterization is also too generic over long stretches, offering beautiful sound but too few interpretive nuances. Where use of ornamentation is concerned, Ms. Fritsch is the more adventures one. The Chamber Orchestra of Lausanne, led by Bertrand de Billy, shows more inclination toward historic performance style than did the Bavarians under de Marchi, but their playing lacks the tonal beauty of the Munich ensemble.

COLLECTIONS

- “Fritz Wunderlich”
Excerpts from radio broadcasts and studio recordings with the Bayerische Rundfunk; includes arias from operas and operettas by Fall, Eduard Künneke, Lehár, Lortzing, Mattes, Millöcker, Otto Nicolai, Spolianski, Robert Stolz, and Johann Strauss the Younger
BR Klassik 900314 (1 CD)

- “Fritz Wunderlich Sings Festive Arias”
Conductors/orchestra: August Langenbeck and Heinz Mende; Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra
Excerpts from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Handel’s Messiah; sacred pieces by Buxtehude, Schütz, and Telemann
SWR Music SWR19026CD (1 CD)
Last September marked the 50th anniversary of the tragic early death of the great tenor only days before his 36th birthday. These two compilations from the archives of German radio networks – Munich’s Bayerische Rundfunk (Bavarian Broadcasting) and Stuttgart’s Southwest Radio – are a welcome addition to the commemorative sets issued in conjunction with the anniversary, as they contain a substantial amount of material that has previously been available only on pirate recordings or not at all. They also document Herr Wunderlich during his early years when he was a member of the Stuttgart State Opera and as a mature artist when he belonged to the ensemble at Munich’s Bavarian State Opera. To a considerable extent, they both preserve his characteristic narrative verve and intelligent articulation of the text, while the Munich Radio Orchestra’s sound has more weight and magnificence than that of their Stuttgart counterpart. The Bayerische Rundfunk disc features excerpts from operettas and German light opera (Lortzing, Nicolai) from their Sunday concert broadcasts, and the reviewer says each of the 16 numbers would merit a detailed discussion. However, he confines his comments to a few significant ones. The tenor’s interpretation of Künnecke’s “Lied vom Leben des Schenk,” heard in 1962, is fascinating in its textual precision and the lilt this gives to the melody – characteristics that are almost more amazing in his rendition of Robert Stolz’s popular “Ob blond, ob braun, ich liebe alle Frau’n” from February, 1966. In René’s song from Millöcker’s Gräfin Dubarry, he was clearly influenced by Richard Tauber’s recording of the piece, while Lehár’s escapist “Schön ist die Welt” is sung with precise phrasing and a “juicy” high B free of any showing off. The Lortzing and Nicolai arias are distinguished by simplicity and exemplary legato.
Textual clarity and agility distinguish Herr Wunderlich’s singing of sacred music heard in the Stuttgart recording. In a performance of Handel’s Messiah from 1959, his lyrical but densely textured voice maneuvers easily through the coloratura of “Ev’ry valley” (sung in German translation), while he fills the arioso, “Behold and see,” with tragic shadings. The excerpts from Bach’s Weihnachtsoratorium, broadcast in 1955 when he was new to the Stuttgart State Opera, reveal a voice with something of a youthful, “white” sound. The tenor throws himself energetically into the coloratura of “Frohe Hirten, eilt” and is astonishingly self-confident and artistically focused; he nails gesture and effect exactly. Even if the instrumental accompaniment in the pieces by Buxtehude, Schütz, and Telemann is not all that could be desired, he shines in this repertoire as well.

- “Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: The Complete 78 RPM Recordings (1946-1952)”
Conductors/orchestras: Karl Hudez/Philharmonia Orchestra; Herbert von Karajan, Karl Böhm, Josef Krips, Alceo Galliera/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
With Nicolai Medtner (pianist)
Arias and songs by Dowland, Arne, Morley, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Verdi, Puccini, Strauss, and Humperdinck
Warner Classics 0190295955175 (5 CDs)
In 1946, Walter Legge traveled to Vienna to look for talent to be signed by His Master’s Voice, and among the artists he met was a young soprano named Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. The rest, as they say, is history. Later in life, Frau Schwarzkopf – a.k.a. Mrs. Legge – would recall that the happiest times of her life were spent in the recording studio, likening the process there to working on a sculpture or painting a scene in sound. That strikes the reviewer as an apt description of her 25 October 1946 recording of Konstanze’s “Martern aller Arten” with Herbert von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic. (The old 78s could only accommodate one aria on each side.) In fact, she paints the aria’s decisive phrases with shades of pride, wrath, and resolve. In another of Konstanze’s arias, “Traurigkeit war mir zum Lose,” she paints in another manner, using appoggiaturas to accentuate individual words. In her middle and lower ranges, her voice sounds unusually full, and perhaps for that reason a touch more strained than in her upper register. Even in those early recordings, there are moments of enlightening details, as in Handel’s “L’Allegro, il pensiero,” where the singer’s trills are matched by a magnificent flute solo and in which she delivers an effortless high D, or in “L’amerò, sarò costante,” with a long, “graphically chiseled” cadence. The young Frau Schwarzkopf’s silvery tone blends beautifully with Irmgard Seefried’s velvety soprano in the Presentation of the Rose from Der Rosenkavalier and the Evening Prayer from Hänsel und Gretel. Her play with changing tonal colors makes the arias of Mimi, Liù, and Lauretta (Gianni Schicchi) into what the reviewer describes as “Mannerist treasures.” There are also many gems to be found in the Liederabend recordings, with the selection of composers ranging from Dowland and Arne to Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and Wolf, or even in such popular pieces as the Bach-Gounod “Ave, Maria” or the folksong “Gsätzli.” The rich vocal colors, subtly balanced dynamics, and succinct articulation are always at the service of characterization. In those songs set to texts by Chamisso, Eichendorff, and Goethe, the young soprano proves herself a master of tonal chiaroscuro and verbal acting. A special feature of this set is the inclusion of songs by Nikolai Medtner, with the composer himself at the keyboard.
The reviewer’s only complaint with this collection has nothing to do with the musical performance, but with the content of the accompanying booklet. Specifically, he faults Warner for not identifying authors of the song texts; it cost him considerable effort to find out that the four English poems come from Pushkin (presumably a translation).

CROSSOVER

- Jonas Kaufmann: “Dolce Vita”
Conductor/orchestra: Asher Fisch, Orchestra of the Teatro Massimo di Palermo
Sony 88875183632 (1 CD)
Some folks in Italy were not too pleased when Pavarotti sang pieces like “Torna a Surriento” or “O sole mio” without the soft Neapolitan accent that lends them a certain authenticity. Those who listen to Jonas Kaufmann’s new recording of Italian “evergreens” will be happy to hear him using the appropriate soft pronunciation. But they may have issues with some other aspects of his performance. The tenor employs a slight overemphasis in diction to adopt an aggressive interpretive style and metallic tone – what the reviewer likens to baring his teeth. In Leoncavallo’s “Mattinata,” it’s not the disappointed lover greeting the dawn whom one hears, but a lion with his jaws wide open. It’s not clear if Herr Kaufmann has turned up the power because he considers it stylistically appropriate or because it’s become in inalienable part of his image. Substantial portions of the album, with cloying accompaniment by the Orchestra of Palermo’s Teatro Massimo conducted by Asher Fisch, are performed in a manner the reviewer regards as almost gladiatorial, but not in the style of relaxed canzoni. With “Con te partirò” (Time to Say Good-bye) and Zucchero’s “Il libro dell’amore,” he crosses the line into pop music, though here and in “Volare,” he finally sings softly. Unfortunately, this comes at the price of making his voice nearly unrecognizable.

- Roberto Alagna: “Malèna”
Conductor/orchestra: Yvan Cassar, London Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 4814733 (1 CD)
With his Sicilian parents and his earliest appearances taking place on cabaret stages, Roberto Alagna has genuine roots in the Italian folksongs he presents on this new album that bears the name of his younger daughter. (He wrote the text for the title song himself, with music supplied by his brother Frederico; in fact, a good half-dozen of the pieces on this disc come from Frederico’s pen.) The tenor intuitively evokes the piazzetta atmosphere and what the reviewer describes as the “passionately expectorating” lover who leaps atop a table. (What a delightful image: a coughing, phlegm-spewing singer. And I still can’t get the saber-toothed Jonas out of my mind . . .) Mr. Alagna inserts a little sob here and there; a little wail is included and properly intensified – but without the muscular approach taken by his German colleague. Neither Mr. Alagna nor his conductor, Yvan Cassar, attempts to deny the slightly cheap character of these somewhat trendy arrangements (for which Maestro Cassar is responsible), and it’s precisely this that separates the Franco-Italian tenor from great predecessors such as Giuseppe di Stefano, whose renditions of Neapolitan folksongs always displayed skill and vocal artistry. As inspired by the locale as he presents himself, Mr. Alagna’s album gives the reviewer the impression of a tourist’s excursion into a “casual taste zone.”

- Daniel Behle: “Mein Hamburg”
With the Schnyder Trio
Berlin Classics 0300826BC (1 CD)
In the past several years, Daniel Behle has taken care to release at least one CD annually, with the recordings encountering varying degrees of success. One must admit that, during this time, his voice has developed in an exemplary manner, as evinced by his Matteo in Christian Thielemann’s 2014 Arabella as well as his recent Ferrando in the Royal Opera House’s production of Cosi fan tutte. In this disc devoted to his hometown, his tenor seems somewhat tightly measured, so that “Meine kleine Elbeschleuse” sounds charming, but also rather thin. His account of the operetta tune “Ob blond, ob braun” is lacking the requisite sense of adventurousness, while he comes across as a scrawny-chested ship’s boy (I love this reviewer’s analogies) in “Schlicht an der Waterkant,” set to a melody by Offenbach. For a number of the songs included here, the tenor has substituted his own lyrics for the original texts, with no composer from Dvořák to Sir Paul McCartney safe from his alterations. “Kummer und Sorgen” (trouble and worries) becomes “Hummer und Fjorden” (lobster and fjords). As Herr Behle regards Hamburg as the “Venice of the North,” he has included the aria, “Komm in die Gondel,” from Johann Strauss the Younger’s operetta Eine Nacht in Venedig (A Night in Venice) on his album. The arrangements by Oliver Schnyder for his piano ensemble, the Schnyder Trio, are first-rate, and while Daniel Behle’s willingness to take risks is commendable, the results don’t sound particularly “Hamburg-ish.”

Amfortas
January 11th, 2017, 08:30 PM
Great job as usual, Mary. But I'm a little confused: that Hercules DVD has been out since 2004. Why are they reviewing it now? Is this a reissue, enhanced in some way?

MAuer
January 12th, 2017, 12:10 PM
Good question. I wasn't aware that the Hercules video had been previously released (and has evidently been on the market for some time). I have no idea why it's included among the magazine's reviews, unless it is a reissue. Come to think of it, my favorite Fidelio DVD with Nylund and Kaufmann was shown as a "new" release last year, even though it had been around since 2005 and the only thing "new" to me looked like the design of the cover graphics.

Clayton
January 12th, 2017, 03:55 PM
Yes I think this is the answer. On the PC site it says first release in HD.

Soave_Fanciulla
January 16th, 2017, 04:02 AM
If it gets more sales for this amazing performance that's all good. And Mary, it is lovely Handel guaranteed 100% countertenor free!

MAuer
January 16th, 2017, 01:44 PM
Need to add it to the ever-expanding "to be purchased" list. :) (It seems every time I buy one of the recordings on that list, I add two or three more to it.)

MAuer
February 4th, 2017, 06:37 PM
There is quite a broad selection of recordings reviewed in the February, 2017, issue of Opernwelt (http://www.opernwelt.de/). And, as occasionally happens, the reviewers from this magazine and Das Opernglas have widely varying opinions on the merits of certain ones. Here’s the summary:

RECOMMENDED

- Glinka: Ruslan and Lyudmila
Conductor: Vladimir Jurowski
Director: Dmitri Tcherniakov
Cast: Mikhail Petrenko, Albina Shagimuratova, Yuri Minenko, Almas Svilpa, Alex Penda, Charles Workman, Elena Zaremba, Vladimir Ognovenko, Alexandre Polkovnikov
BelAir Classiques 3 760115 301207 (2 DVDs)
This production, with which the Fall, 2011, reopening of the Bolshoi Theater after extensive renovation/restoration was celebrated, gets high marks for both the musical performance and the staging. Under the baton of Vladimir Jurowski, the Bolshoi Orchestra and Chorus resist the temptation to treat Glinka’s score in too much of either a ponderous, emotional manner or a folkloric style. The musicians’ playing is clearly contoured, lean, and sharply contrasted even in the “thunderous” march and the exotic “Oriental” dances in the fourth act. The cast is excellent, led by Mikhail Petrenko and Albina Shagimuratova in the title roles and with Elena Zaremba (Naina), Charles Workman (Finn), Alex Penda (Gorislava), and Yuri Minenko (Ratmir) the standouts in a very strong group of soloists. Of course, with Dmitri Tcherniakov directing, one knows not to expect a conventional staging. The Russian Regisseur treats Glinka’s fantastic tale (in the version the composer reworked with Vladimir Shirkov) as an episodic film. The first act wedding scene is awash in trendy, garish, technicolor folklore effects that veer into cliché, and is followed by a second act in which “reality” sets in with the kidnapping of Lyudmila and the revelation that Finn and Naina, depicted as a quarrelsome older couple, are the ones who are actually calling the shots. From the discovery of the magic sword in a charred “dead zone” to Ruslan’s encounter with Ratmir and Gorislava in a house of ill repute, and the liberation of Lyudmila from a stark white hospital prison, Finn and Naina are playing out the vicissitudes of their own (failed?) relationship.

- Krenek: Orpheus und Eurydike
Conductor: Pinchas Steinberg
Cast: Ronald Hamilton, Dunja Vezjovic, Celina Lindsley, Cornelia Kallisch, Gabriele Schreckenbach, Jutta Geister, Bo Skovhus, et. al.
Orfeo C 923 1621 (2 CDs)
This live recording of a 1990 Salzburg Festival concert performance of Krenek’s opera based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has been selected as the February issue’s CD of the Month. Whereas the composer wrote the librettos for most of his operas himself, in this instance he drew on Oskar Kokoschka’s 1919 reworking of the story. Reflecting both Kokoschka’s experiences in the First World War and his troubled affair with Alma Mahler, this version has the mythological spouses as a modern pair acting out the battle of the sexes in their love-hate relationship – an interpretation that leans heavily on Freud’s psychoanalysis. Here, the Furies kill Eurydice and carry her off to the underworld, after which Orpheus takes five years before he finally gets around to coming in search of her. When he does show up, she announces that she’s been Hades’ lover. Orpheus goes mad, gets hanged by the Maenads, but before he dies, has one last visionary encounter with the spirit of Eurydice, whom he still loves. The opera concludes with an epilogue in which the lovers Psyche and Amor are reunited. Krenek succeeds in revealing both the emotional and symbolic dimensions of the drama’s conflicts, with inner feelings brought to life through outward events, while giving the whole musical form. Individual scenes are clearly contrasted; the central meeting of the unhappy couple is given a cantabile tone that always serves the text. In the title characters and the figure of Psyche, the composer has also created memorable, demanding but grateful role portraits, and they are impressively filled by the soloists in this performance. Dunja Vejzovic’s dark, full soprano (she is usually referred to as a mezzo) suits Kokoschka’s femme fatale Eurydice well, and she infuses her interpretation with a touch of the demonic. The parallels to Wagner’s Kundry – Vejzovic’s parade role – are obvious, and the singer’s often lax declamation of the text and some intonation problems in the upper register hardly diminish a masterful performance. Ronald Hamilton sings Orpheus with a light Heldentenor and convincingly conveys this figure’s fatalistic downfall, while Celia Lindsley is equally credible in Psyche’s crystalline coloratura. All of the smaller roles are satisfyingly cast, and the Austrian Broadcasting (ORF) Chorus and Vienna Symphony Orchestra bring great engagement to their music-making under the baton of Pinchas Steinberg. This recording is a persuasive argument for a largely unknown work that has long been overshadowed by Krenek’s Jonny spielt auf and Karl V.

- Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen
Conductor: Rudolf Kempe
Cast: Jerome Hines, Astrid Varnay, Birgit Nilsson, Hans Hopf, Regina Resnik, Fritz Uhl, Régine Crespin, Gottlob Frick, Gerhard Stolze, Otakar Kraus, Herold Kraus, Marga Höffgen, Grace Hoffman, Thomas Stewart, Wilma Schmidt, et. al.
Orfeo/Naxos C 928613 (13 CDs)
Previously unavailable on disc, this 1961 Bayreuth Ring has finally been released on the Orfeo label, and documents the completely lost performance standards that once prevailed on the Green Hill. Among the cast are singers whose role portraits marked an entire epoch, first among them Birgit Nilsson as Brünnhilde and Gottlob Frick as Hunding and Hagen. Here, Nilsson is heard in the final two operas, with Astrid Varnay, who had a similar monopoly on the part during the 1950s, singing the title role in Die Walküre. Régine Crespin, who would later be Karajan’s Brünnhilde, makes a glowing, sensuous Sieglinde for Kempe. Regina Resnik is an impressive Fricka; the figure of Loge has never been given a sharper characterization than Gerhard Stolze’s; and Otakar Kraus’s Alberich is a formidable antagonist for Wotan. The “god-father” is portrayed by two basses who were making their Bayreuth debuts in 1961: Jerome Hines in the first two operas, and James Milligan as the Wanderer in Siegfried. Both project great vocal authority and a feeling for the particular German of Wagner’s text; tragically, the 33 year-old Milligan died only a few months later of a heart attack. As Donner and Günther, Thomas Stewart already gives indications that he will develop into the leading Wotan of his generation. From the perspective of vocal colors, the roles of the two Wälsung heroes are unusually cast, with Fritz Uhl lending his lighter, cutting Loge timbre to Siegmund while the very baritonal-sounding Hans Hopf makes Siegfried a full-grown man and no naïve youth. Relying on his experience with his London Ring, Rudolf Kempe creates a lean sound with a calm narrative flow, out of which the dramatic high points organically develop.

- Pergolesi: Adriano in Siria
Conductor: Jan Tomasz Adamus
Cast: Franco Fagioli, Romina Basso, Yuriy Mynenko, Dilyara Idrisova, Juan Sancho, Cigdem Soyarsl
Decca 483 0004 (3 CDs)
This recording gets a thumbs-up from Opernwelt’s reviewer as well, in no small measure due to Franco Fagioli’s assumption of the Caffarelli role of Farnaspe. Pergolesi wrote the part to give the star castrato plenty of opportunities to shine, and for Fagioli, this music offers an ideal chance to demonstrate his own tremendous virtuosity. High notes (up to high C) glow like a beacon; in the aria “Lieto così talvolta” at the end of the first act, he competes with the solo oboe in the most beautiful manner and even outdoes his earlier rendition of this piece on his 2012 album “Arias for Caffarelli.” Beside him, all of the other figures tend to pale, due in part to the fact that Pergolesi’s writing for the other characters was far more conventional. The other soloists as well as the somewhat impetuously but often very sensitively playing musicians of the Capella Cracoviensis led by Jan Tomasz Adamus give their best in order not to completely disappear in Fagioli’s shadow.

- Johann Christoph Pepusch: Venus and Adonis
Conductor: Robert Rawson
Cast: Clara Hendrick, Philippa Hyde, Richard Edgar-Wilson
Ramée RAM 1502
Like his fellow native German and contemporary, Handel, Johann Christoph Pepusch was active in early 18th century London’s music scene, serving as Kapellmeister at the Drury Lane Theatre. But while Handel initially focused on Italian opera in his compositional endeavors, Pepusch tried to pair the Italian opera form with English texts. His masque Venus and Adonis, which premiered in March, 1715, was a pattern of sorts for his further efforts along this line and became the model for Handel’s own English-language opera Acis and Galatea. This recording with contrabass player and conductor Robert Rawson leading the HIP ensemble with the delightful name of The Harmonious Society of Tickle-Fiddle Gentlemen (which also includes some tickle-fiddle ladies) is a pleasure to hear from beginning to end. With her light, flexible voice and girlish timbre, soprano Philippa Hyde’s Adonis captivates listeners as well as the goddess of love. That divinity is portrayed by the equally impressive mezzo Clara Hendrick, who gives a rousing account of Venus’ vengeance aria near the conclusion of the drama. Only Richard Edgar-Wilson’s Mars sounds somewhat constricted. The Fiddle Ticklers play with freshness and verve, their nuanced reading of Pepusch’s score displaying exemplary transparency.

- Salieri: La Scuola de’ Gelosi (The School of Jealousy)
Conductor: Werner Ehrhardt
Cast: Francesca Lombardi Mazzuli, Emiliano d’Aguanno, Roberta Mameli, Federico Sacchi, Milena Storti, Florian Götz, Patrick Vogel
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 8898532282 (3 CDs)
I’ve included this among the recommended recordings, though the recommendation is based on the quality of the musical performance than the work itself. Following its 1779 world premiere in Venice, Salieri’s La Scuola de’ Gelosi enjoyed tremendous popularity with audiences, a state of affairs that lasted until it was eclipsed by Mozart’s Così fan tutte – which, coincidentally or not, is subtitled La Scuola degli Amanti. The reasons for the shift in preference are obvious. While Mozart “looks directly into (his) figures’ hearts” (reviewer’s terminology), Salieri is content to devise a pretty Rococo divertimento; while da Ponte’s libretto has psychological depth, Caterino Mazzolà’s text for Salieri evinces such ramshackle construction that one can summarize the whole thing in a few sentences. The opera lasts nearly three hours and contains a lot of very long recitatives as well as quite a few arias that show flawless craftsmanship. The latter are practically interchangeable, however, since the emotional states of the various characters are never clearly illuminated in a way that would make the music unequivocal even without text. In spite of the great commitment conductor Werner Ehrhardt brings to this forgotten work, and in spite of the lively, vital playing of the ensemble l’arte del mondo, one cannot share the Maestro’s assertion that the opera is a “brilliant success.” What makes the recording worthwhile is the loving “obsession” with details all involved bring to the performance. Ehrhardt and his musicians make all the facets of Salieri’s colorful instrumentation glow, while the soloists shape their roles with stylistic assurance so that the whole “breathes” the elegant lightness Salieri intended.

- Ravel: L’heure espagnole
Conductor: Bruno Maderna
Cast: Suzanne Danco, Jean Giraudeau, Michel Hamel, John Cameron, André Vessières
Testament/Note 1 SBT 1511 (1 CD)
For a long time, Ernest Ansermet’s 1953 Decca recording of Ravel’s one-act comedy has been without serious competition in the discography. That may change now with the first official release of the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s performance under the baton of Bruno Maderna. The roles of Concepción, Torquemada, and Don Inigo are sung by the same soloists in both recordings, while Maderna, who was intimately familiar with Ravel’s compositions, draws out the contrasts in the score and shows a keen sense for both the tonal colors and the occasional “rousing” comedy in the orchestral portion. The five singers are excellent and manage to create an uncommonly living interpretation under the studio conditions. Suzanne Danco portrays the clockmaker’s cheating wife with discreet eroticism and a marked feeling for musical and textual nuances. The Australian baritone John Cameron displays idiomatic French diction as the mule driver Ramiro and finds the right balance between virility and elegance. Tenor Jean Giraudeau’s Gonzalve combines captivating lyricism with a touch of irony that underscores the character’s comic aspect; only a few years later, he recorded the part of the clockmaker Torquemada for Lorin Maazel. The role is entrusted to Michel Hamel in the BBC performance, who creates an exemplary characterization, while André Vessières lends his rich bass to the banker Don Inigo.

- Leonid Desjatnikov: The Children of Rosenthal
Conductor: Alexander Vedernikov
Cast: Elena Manistina, Maxim Paster, Vsevolod Grivnov, Alexander Teliga, Vassily Ladyuk, Pyotr Migunov, Kristina Mkhitaryan
Melodiya 10 02432 (2 CDs)
The reviewer isn’t wildly enthusiastic about this recording, but doesn’t seem to have any particular objections to it, either. This is the opera about the German Jewish geneticist who seeks refuge from the Nazis in Stalinist Russia, where he carries out his human cloning program with the dictator’s approval. Over the next three decades, he clones his five favorite composers (his “children”), Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Verdi, Mussorgsky, and finally Mozart. When Rosenthal dies in 1992 at the end of the Soviet Union, the “kids” are left on the street – specifically, Komsomolskaya Square. The Mozart clone falls in love with a prostitute named Tanya and decides to marry her, but her jealous pimp poisons the vodka served at the wedding. In the end, Wolfgang is the sole survivor. Leonid Desjatnikov is best known in Russia as a composer of film soundtracks, and in this “polystylistic” farce, he tries to fill the laboratory creatures with musical life. He doesn’t use direct quotes from any of the five, but relies instead on word associations and assimilative motifs – i.e., “Schläfst du, Wagner, mein Sohn?” Pyotr Migunov sings Rosenthal with a powerful bass, while Wagner is entrusted to the mezzo Elena Manistina. Mozart and Tchaikovsky are assigned to tenors Vsevolod Grivnov and Maxim Paster, respectively, and Verdi is a baritone (Vassily Ladyuk). Bass Alexander Teliga portrays Mussorgsky. At one point, a touch of La Traviata seems to float over the many ostinati, and Eugene Onegin can also be detected now and then. The reviewer characterizes the work as a postmodern pasticcio interspersed with patterns. This live recording from the Bolshoi Theater has been released a little over a decade since the opera’s 2005 premiere, which drew protestors and led to a debate in the Duma after word leaked out that the controversial author Vladimir Sorokin had written the libretto. Accusations of “pornography onstage” proved completely unfounded. The CD comes generously packaged with introductory notes, synopsis, and libretto in the original Russian and an English translation. This is a “shrill, offbeat, very Russian story,” according to the reviewer, though its sarcastic spirit would have been better conveyed by a DVD of the staged production.

- Sonya Yoncheva: Handel
Conductor/orchestra: Alessandro de Marchi, Academia Montis Regalis
With Karine Deshayes (mezzo soprano)
Arias from Giulio Cesare, Alcina, Theodora, Rodelinda, Agrippina, and Rinaldo, as well as Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas
Sony Classical 88985302932 (1 CD)
The Bulgarian soprano delivers powerfully gripping, intensely emotional portrayals of the characters represented in the pieces on this CD, whether in Alcina’s “Ah, mio cor,” Almirena’s “Lascia ch’io pianga,” or Agrippina’s “Pensieri, voi mi tormentate.” Handel’s music, with its genuine feelings and sensitively, suits her. So, too, does the touch of lilting amorousness in these pieces, which seem made for her freely-flowing voice with its feather-light quality in the upper register. But Yoncheva can also produce rough, stark tones when necessary, as in Cleopatra’s “Se pietà di me non senti.” Here she’s metaphorically treading on ice, willing to trade perfect singing for expressivity. A more ambivalent impression is left by the selections from Rodelinda, where she’s joined by Karine Deshayes. The “supple eloquence” of both voices is noteworthy, but Yoncheva’s has decidedly more luster and (consciously or not) pushes Deshayes’ mezzo somewhat in the shadow.

- Christiane Karg and Romina Basso: “Mitologie”
Conductor/orchestra: Alan Curtis, Il Complesso Barocco
Arias and duets by Handel
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88875199812 (1 CD)
Although Christiane Karg’s singing often turns breathy and throaty, and the coloratura in Semele’s “No, no, I’ll take no less” tests the limits of her technique, this album still gets the reviewer’s endorsement. The soprano also displays “sublime elegance” and, together with mezzo Romina Basso, forms an exciting team – more so than Yoncheva and Deshayes. Unlike Deshayes, Basso’s voice is never overshadowed by Karg’s. The intensity of these ladies’ musical dialogue, illustrated, for example, by the duet of Atalanta and Meleagro, is focused more on interpretation of the text than tonal beauty. The “poetry” they create is shaped by musical dramaturgy. It’s probably not surprising that the disc’s highlights are the mezzo arias from Parnasso in festa and Hercules, with a wealth of effects in the accompaniment by Alan Curtis and the ensemble Il Complesso Barocco. Dejanira’s jealous madness in “Where shall I fly” is so grippingly authentic that the listener almost feels as though he or she is in the presence of Hercules’ unhappy wife.

- “Ballo Turco: From Venice to Istanbul”
Conductor/orchestra: Mehmet C. Yeşilçay, Pera Ensemble
With Francesca Lombardi Mazzuli (soprano)
Works by Cesti, Sances, Falconieri, Praetorius, Monteverdi, Rossi, Castaldi, Kapsberger, Marini, Borbowski/Ali Ufki, Gagliano, Mustafa, and Aga
Oehms Classics OC 1858 (1 CD)
This is another effort to bridge the divide between East and West through music. The Pera Ensemble, founded in 2005, has already established a position of “historically enlightened exoticism and traditionalism” (reviewer’s terminology) with their previous recordings, “Café” (2012), “Momenti d’amore” (2015), and “Carneval Oriental” (2016). Present day standards of historic performance practice are strictly adhered to. The soloist on this album, Francesca Lombardi Mazzuli, reminds one stylistically of Montserrat Figueras, and the journey from Venice to Istanbul sounds harmlessly beautiful. The program begins with eunuch dances from Cesti’s La Dori and morescas from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and Praetorious’ Terpsichore, then continues with pieces by Kapsberger, Marini, Salomone Rossi, and the dervish Frenk Mustafa, taking the listener through mostly unknown works from the transitional period between Renaissance and early Baroque styles. It’s refreshing, but the intermingling of these various fragments creates a “Ball” that’s only conceivable under the (post) modern conditions of the present day. The reviewer suggests that listeners not take the historical claims all too seriously.

- Leonardo Leo: Sacred Works
With Ulrike Hofbauer (soprano) and Ensemble &cetera
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88875057442 (1 CD)
Leonardo Leo is among composers of the Neapolitan School who have been rediscovered in recent years – and what fabulous music there is to be rediscovered is illustrated by this disc with his sacred works. Two settings of the Marian antiphon “Salve, Regina,” one of the “Lezzioni di Giovedi Santo,” and the moving cantata Il figliuol prodigo are joined here by some no less impressive instrumental pieces. Soprano Ulrike Hofbauer and her Ensemble &cetera give memorable, touching interpretations of this material. A graduate of Basel’s Scuola Cantorum, Hofbauer sings with a trim, precise, flexible voice and captures the expressive wealth of this music down to the smallest details. The members of Ensemble &cetera, all instrumental soloists, are fully up to her standard.

- Saint-Saëns: Mélodies
Tassis Christoyannis (baritone), Jeff Cohen (pianist)
Aparte AP 132 (1 CD)
This fine recording by the Greek baritone convincingly refutes the complaint of eclecticism often leveled at Saint-Saëns. Rather, his music plays with folksong, elaborate Baroque ornamentation, shifting colors, exoticism, and modern harmonies. While his early Mélodies still follow the classical model of verse songs, the composer later broke free of this form at times, with declamatory style prevailing. There is also a certain distancing element in these pieces that expresses itself in various moods: irony, melancholy, laconism. In the late song cycle La cendre rouge, which deals with loss, the transitory, and disappointment, the style is more direct and aggressive. Christoyannis sings this material with convincing stylistic intelligence and eloquence. The reviewer describes his voice as often sounding like a rough mixture of José van Dam and Thomas Hampson, but his covered tonal shadings suit the four cycles well; nothing is “perfumed” or over-interpreted. His linking of text and musical line is exemplary. One can detect the piano virtuoso Saint-Saëns in the accompaniment, and Jeff Cohen makes the most of the opportunity. There is a “symbiotic giving and taking” between soloist and accompanist that runs through this recording, which the reviewer predicts will do much to expand the audience for Saint-Saëns’ art songs.

- Paul Juon: Lieder
Maria Riccarda Wesseling (mezzo soprano), Clau Scherrer (pianist)
Coviello Classics 4039956916123 (1 CD)
The Russian-Swiss composer Paul Juon (1872-1940) often positioned himself as the “anti-Schoenberg,” taking this “cold intellectualism” to task in his autobiography. His songs continue a cozy tradition of the 19th century: colorful and melodic, with delicate little cameos. Though he occasionally assimilated the styles of his contemporaries, Juon remained a distinctly individual personality – even when reworking Ukrainian, Russian, and Jewish folksongs. Accompanied by Clau Scherrer, mezzo Maria Riccarda Wesseling gives a sensitive account of these pieces, her singing light, trim, flexible, and elegant.

- Anne Sophie von Otter: “so many things”
With the string quartet Brooklyn Rider
Songs by Kate Bush, John Adams, Caroline Shaw, Colin Jacobsen, Björk, Nico Muhly, Anders Hillborg, Brad Mehldau, Elvis Costello, Sting, and Rufus Wainwright
Naïve V 5436 (1 CD)
Opernwelt’s reviewer likes Anne Sophie von Otter’s crossover album with the string quartet Brooklyn Rider a great deal more than his counterpart at Das Opernglas, who pretty much dismissed it. And although there is plenty of pop music on this disc, the actual inspiration for the recording was John Adams’ song “Am I your light?” from his opera Doctor Atomic. The CD’s title is borrowed from a song by another opera composer, Nico Muhly, and is the longest piece heard here. Von Otter sings this material with an idiomatic naturalness as though she’s been performing it all her life, and the four instrumentalists of Brooklyn Rider are no less fantastic. The reviewer also singles out the two Björk songs, especially “Hunter” with its spooky flair, as something quite special.

- “From Melba to Sutherland: Australian Singers on Record”
Recordings by Dame Nellie Melba, Frances Alda, Lionello Cecil, Peter Dawson, John Brownlee, Florence Austral, Margherita Grandi, Marjorie Lawrence, Sylvia Fisher, Joan Hammond, Elsie Morison, Marie Collier, Rita Hunter, Yvonne Minton, Ronald Dowd, Kenneth Neate, John Lanigan, Albert Lance, John Shaw, Robert Allman, Clifford Grant, Lauris Elms, Margarita Elkins, Dame Joan Sutherland, and others
Decca Eloquence 482 5892 (4 CDs)
There’s an old joke that the best British singers are Australian. When one considers this five-hour CD documentation expertly edited by Roger Neill and Tony Locantro, with no less than 80 Aussie singers heard on over a century’s worth of recordings, one cannot help but be impressed by the wealth of vocal talent from Down Under. The earliest recording, with the soprano Syria Lamonte, comes from 1898; the most recent, a bonus track with Emma Matthews, dates to 2008. The set begins and ends with two legends of the bel canto repertoire, Dames Nellie Melba and Joan Sutherland, both of whom are heard in Marguerite’s Jewel Song from Faust. Many of the women included in the first hour of music were students of Mathilde Marchesi, herself a pupil of Manuel Garcia the Younger. Frances Saville, a member of Mahler’s ensemble at the Vienna State Opera, is represented by a 1905 recording of Manon’s Gavotte (sung in German translation). Along with Amy Castles, Evelyn Scotney, and Stella Power from the succeeding generation, she represents the light lyric soprano Fach – Scotney’s voice had a soubrette quality – with a well-focused, agile instrument capable of impressive trills. At the other end of the spectrum are the hochdramatische sopranos Florence Austral, Marjorie Lawrence, and later, Rita Hunter, though Hunter is not heard in Wagner, but in the title heroine’s “Suicido!” from Ponchielli’s La Gioconda. Marie Collier, who sang Chrysothemis in Solti’s Elektra, was best known in London as an interpreter of Italian roles; the lyric soprano Joan Hammond made countless recordings for the Columbia label; and mezzo Yvonne Minton, who sings Mahler’s “Rheinlegende” here, was a leading international star onstage and in the recording studio. The gentlemen are represented by (among others) the excellent tenors Albert Lance and Kenneth Neate, the former long a star of the Paris Opéra, and the latter wrapping up his career as a voice teacher in Munich. Baritone Robert Allman, a member of the Cologne Opera’s ensemble in the 1960s who was strongly supported by Wolfgang Sawallisch, made his reputation in the Italian repertoire and is heard on this set singing the aria “Urna fatale” from La Forza del Destino. Many of the recordings included here were originally produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on its label ABC Classics. However, the selections on the set aren’t limited to opera and art songs, but encompass everything from folksongs to pieces in the “Music Hall and Variety” and “Musical Theater” categories. There are many discoveries to be made in these popular genres, such as Eileen Boyd’s sumptuous contralto in Australian composer May Brahe’s “I passed by your window,” or Rosina Raisbeck singing excerpts from The Sound of Music. Malcolm McEachern’s superb bass is heard in both a Handel aria and – as part of the comic duo Flotsam and Jetsam – in a duet with partner B. C. Hilliam. The booklet accompanying this collection contains an informative essay by the publisher, biographies of many singers, and over 40 photographs. This is a real treasure trove for the collector of vocal music recordings.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Rachmaninoff: Troika
Conductor: Mikhail Tatarnikov
Director: Kirsten Dehlholm/Hotel Pro Forma
Cast: Aleko – Kostas Smoriginas, Sergey Semishkur, Alexander Vasiliev, Anna Nechaeva, Yaroslava Kozina; The Miserly Knight – Sergei Leiferkus, Dmitri Golovnin, Ilya Silchukov, Alexander Kravets, Alexander Vasiliev; Francesca da Rimini – Anna Nechaeva, Dmitris Tiliakos, Sergey Semishkur, Alexander Vasiliev, Dmitry Golovnin
Bel Air Classiques 3 760115 301337 (2 DVDs)
Rachmaninoff himself never planned these three one-act operas to be performed as a set in the manner of Puccini’s Il Trittico; rather, it was the artistic management of Brussels’ La Monnaie that cobbled them together for a Rachmaninoff evening during the 2015 season. The results are not the best. The composer wrote Aleko as part of his graduation requirements at the Moscow Conservatory, and the work in fact sounds annoyingly academic. The reviewer is generally unimpressed by Kirsten Dehlholm’s colorful, lavishly costumed production, which he likens to “installation theater” with a craftsman-like “choreographed sculpturesqueness.” Conductor Mikhail Tatarnikov’s interpretation is lacking in nuance and is not much above dress rehearsal standard, leaving it to individual soloists – Anna Nechaeva as Zemfira (Aleko) and Francesca, and Sergei Leiferkus as the tightwad Baron (The Miserly Knight) – to lend weight to these operas.

- Boito: Mefistofele
Conductor: Omer Meir Wellber
Director: Roland Schwab
Cast: René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Karine Babajanyan, Heike Grötzinger, Andrea Borghini, Rachael Wilson, Joshua Owen Mills
C Major/Unitel 814337013936 (1 DVD)
Never mind that the cover photo shows Mefistofele and Faust speeding by on a motorcycle; the reviewer finds Roland Schwab’s Bavarian State Opera production to be a “wild, but ultimately conventional” treatment with a superficial charm, but limited depth. Events take place within a sort of dilapidated airport hangar which will often remind viewers who are familiar with it of Götz Friedrich’s “time tunnel” Berlin Ring staging. This facility initially serves as a shelter for drug addicts, with scenic arrangements that (unfortunately?) also suggest a chicken coop to the reviewer. The Walpurgisnacht scene is set in a psychiatric asylum that wouldn’t be out of place in The Rake’s Progress. There isn’t all that much villainy to the titular devil, who comes across as weary in a rather blasé fashion and tired of the constant negativity. René Pape makes an impressive role debut, even if from a vocal standpoint he’ll probably never own the part in the way Cesare Siepi did, while Joseph Calleja is a convincing Faust with a luminous tenor that really isn’t compromised by a slight “tremble.” The scenes with Margherita are somewhat reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Expressionist films, and Kristine Opolais even visually resembles a German star of the silent film era, though vocally she remains rather neutral, even in the dungeon. Conductor Omer Meir Wellber strikes sparks with the Bavarian State Orchestra and is a sensitive, supportive partner for the soloists.

- Wagner: Das Rheingold
Conductor: Jaap van Zweden
Cast: Matthias Goerne, Michelle De Young, Kim Begley, Peter Sidhorn, Kwangchul Youn, Stephen Milling, David Cangelosi, Charles Reid, Oleksandr Puschniak, Anna Samuil, Deborah Humble, Eri Nakamura, Aurhelia Warak, Hermine Haselböck
Naxos 8660374-75 (2 CDs)

- Wagner: Die Walküre
Conductor: Jaap van Zweden
Cast: Petra Lang, Matthias Goerne, Stuart Skelton, Heidi Melton, Falk Struckmann, Michelle De Young, et. al.
Naxos 8660394-97 (4 CDs)
These first installments of the Hong Kong Philharmonic’s Ring cycle – Siegfried will be released this year, with Götterdämmerung due out at the end of 2018 – are reviewed as a set. The performances are distinguished by the Wotan of Matthias Goerne, who was making role debuts in both operas, and who makes a noteworthy impression, both vocally and dramatically. He’s not a genuine Heldenbariton and probably never will be, but his succinct declamation in the dialogues with Fricka and Brünnhilde and his full-bodied legato in Wotan’s Farewell leave very little to be desired. He’s matched in Lied-like phrasing and exemplary diction by the Australian tenor Stuart Skelton as Siegmund. This is the sort of pure Wagner bel canto that one seldom hears these days. Falk Struckmann, Wotan in Hamburg’s Ring, is heard here as Hunding. He lacks the dark tonal colors of an actual bass such as Gottlob Frick or Kurt Moll, but he’s able to accentuate the figure’s sinister aspect with sharp textual imagery. The reviewer is less pleased with the ladies’ contributions. Heidi Melton’s Sieglinde displays an attractive midrange, but her top often turns screechy – one wonders what will happen when she takes on Brünnhilde in Siegfried. Wotan’s favorite daughter is sung in Die Walküre by Petra Lang with a youthful-sounding soprano that tends to lose focus in exposed passages and has a bit of a “howling” quality in portamento. Michelle De Young turns Fricka into a scolding dragon of a wife, causing the argumentative force of her exchange with Wotan to be lost. In Das Rheingold, Goerne is the only native German speaker in the cast, and while the other soloists clearly invest considerable effort in achieving precise articulation of the text, their accents don’t entirely disappear. Kim Begley (Loge), Peter Sidhorn (Alberich), Kwangchul Youn (Fasolt), and Stephen Milling (Fafner) offer attractive, if not especially distinctive, portrayals, but the other singers never rise above the standard of a good city theater. The members of the Hong Kong Philharmonic have been well-prepared by principal conductor Jaap van Zweden, who knows his way around Wagner’s music. He takes care to restrain the orchestra’s volume and allow the soloists to give vivid characterization to their roles, and over wide stretches, creates a chamber drama atmosphere. That’s well done and quite within Wagner’s intentions. However, the broad tempos (this Rheingold is 30 minutes longer than the recordings led by Clemens Kraus and Karl Böhm) are not filled with the necessary inner tension; orchestral high points are somewhat isolated and, in general, the whole lacks a grand epic scope.

- Purcell: Dido and Aeneas
Conductor: Fabio Bonizzoni
Cast: Raffaella Milanesi, Richard Helm, Stefanie True, Iason Marmaras, Michela Antenucci, Anna Bessi
Challenge Classics CC72737 (1 CD)
Although this opera had its first performance at Josiah Priest’s Chelsea boarding school for girls, there’s good reason to suspect Purcell didn’t intend for the work to be sung by amateurs. Priest also happened to be the ballet master at the royal court, and it’s quite possible that Purcell originally composed Dido and Aeneas for performances there and Priest simply transferred the opera to his school. For this recording with the ensemble La Risonanza, Fabio Bonizzoni selected a later version of the work that also included John Eccles’ and Godfrey Finger’s masque, The Love of Mars and Venus. This involved some double casting, with the bass (baritone) who sang Vulcan in the masque also undertaking the part of the Sorcoress in Dido and Aeneas, and Iason Marmaras brings a passionate intensity to his portrayal of these disparate figures. Maestro Bonizzoni’s detailed reconstruction of the 1704 performance is described in the summary of reviews from the January issue of Das Opernglas. On the whole, he draws an extremely colorful, crisp, exciting interpretation from his musicians. The assumption that Purcell had a lay ensemble in mind when he composed Dido and Aeneas probably led to the occasional attempt here to recreate the sound of an amateur performance, something critical listeners will perceive with many of the soloists. It’s particularly noticeable in the case of Raffaela Milanesi’s Dido. Though the soprano is often heard in Early Music works, her voice seems to have neither a center nor a firm seat, the latter indicated by a marked tremolo. On top of that, the reviewer finds her ornamentation in “When I am laid in earth” more suited to Monteverdi and his successors than Purcell.

- Paisiello: Fedra
Conductor: Jérôme Correas
Cast: Raffaela Milanesi, Artavazd Sargsyan, Anna Maria Dell’Oste, Caterina Poggini, Piera Bivona, Sonia Fortunato, Salvatore D’Agata, Giuseppe Lo Turco
Dynamic CDS 7765 (1 CD)
In January, 2016, Catania’s Teatro Massimo Bellini resurrected Paisiello’s late opera seria that premiered in Naples in 1788. However, the recording of the live performance that has just been released on the Dynamic label is not, as the CD cover states, the world premiere recording. That distinction goes to the 1958 Italian radio recording by Angelo Questa, which had already been issued on CD in the 1990s, and which has been available on YouTube for quite some time. Fedra is a typical transitional seria with choruses, ceremonial instrumental music, and dances (which are cut here) in the French tradition of Traetta and Gluck. With the exception of the Aricia-Ippolito love duet, Paisiello doesn’t include any ensembles. He does offer impressive theatrical effects, from the Furies’ entrance in the underworld to a storm scene and the appearance of a sea monster. The latter will put one in mind of Mozart’s Idomeneo, which had premiered a few years earlier. However, the distance between Paisiello’s skillfully crafted, yet often pallid early Classicism and the masterpieces of Rameau and Gluck – to say nothing of Mozart – is apparent. The pallor is reinforced in this performance, which often drags in spite of the dramatic accents given to the accompagnati and choral scenes by conductor Jérôme Correas. Raffaela Milanesi sings the title role with powerful expression, but is also inclined to shrillness in the upper register. Tenor Artavazd Sargsyan (Teseo) makes a favorable impression with his clear declamation, but the remaining soloists are disappointing. Anna Maria Dell’Oste’s Aricia is marred by a constant vibrato, while Caterina Poggini (Ippolito) and Piera Bivona (Learco) are overtaxed by the vocal and stylistic demands of roles originally written for castrati. The reviewer is not happy with the “topfig” sound of the recording, an adjective for which I can only find “curdy” as the English translation. Does this mean grainy? Lumpy? Dynamic also takes a hit for its sloppy packaging, with not even a decent track listing provided.

- Ravel: L’heure espagnole
Conductor: Stéphane Denève
Cast: Stéphanie D’Oustrac, Yann Beuron, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Alexandre Duhamel, Paul Gay
SWR Music/Naxos 19016 (1 CD)
This release from Stuttgart’s Südwest Rundfunk (Southwest Broadcasting) is no match for the Maderna/BBC version reviewed earlier. Conductor Stéphane Denève has a clear grasp of Ravel’s tonal colors and leads the SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra with the requisite lightness, but when compared to Maderna’s reading, his interpretation comes across as rather too smooth. The soloists’ portrayals are lacking wit and irony, and most of all, theatricality. Although they are all native speakers, they treat the text in a very casual manner, without any comic touches. Mezzo Stéphanie D’Oustrac’s Concepción is more nasty than charming and has little erotic aura, while the quite “impersonal”-sounding lyric baritone Alexandre Duhamel hardly suggests the macho Ramiro. The other men – Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (Torquemada), Yann Beuron (Gonzalve), and Paul Gay (Don Inigo) – give adequate but not especially individual accounts of their roles. On the CD, the opera is preceded by three songs from Ravel’s Shéhérazade cycle, which D’Oustrac sings with a hard vibrato that negates the pieces’ tonal sensuality. The accompanying booklet contains the song texts and the opera’s libretto, but only in the original French.

- Mahler/Schoenberg: Das Lied von der Erde; Songs of a Wayfarer
Conductor/orchestra: JoAnn Falletta, Attacca Quartet/Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Players
Soloists: Charles Reid (tenor), Susan Platts (mezzo soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone)
Naxos 8.573536 (1 CD)
In 1918, Arnold Schoenberg founded The Society for Musical Private Performances, whose concerts were supposed to be given in a variety of venues. However, finances compelled the group to economize in the size of the orchestra and use chamber arrangements with flute, oboe, clarinet, string quintet, and often a piano and harmonium as well. When necessary, as with Schoenberg’s reworking of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde that’s heard on this recording, the number of instruments – though not necessarily the number of musicians – was expanded. The flautist also played the piccolo, the oboist was responsible for the cor anglais, and a second clarinet along with bassoon, horn, celesta, and drums (complete with triangle) were added. In the first song, “Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde,” the thin-sounding strings make the center of gravity shift to the wind instruments, though this needn’t be a bad thing. On this disc, the musicians of the Attacca Quartet and Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Players, led by JoAnn Falletta, prove themselves reliable proponents of both Mahler and Schoenberg. There are pluses and minuses with the soloists; tenor Charles Reid tackles his songs fearlessly, and while mezzo Susan Platts has a timbre somewhat reminiscent of Kathleen Ferrier and offers full-bodied vocalism, she also sounds unsteady. A far more positive impression is made by baritone Roderick Williams in his interpretation of the Songs of a Wayfarer. He sings authoritatively, with intelligence and textual clarity. Schoenberg’s concentrated arrangement of this cycle seems more consistent and perhaps even more Mahlerian than that of Das Lied von der Erde, thanks to Falletta’s reading.

- Pergolesi: Stabat Mater
Conductor/orchestra: Héloïse Gaillard, Ensemble Amarillis
Soloists: Sonya Yoncheva, Karine Deshayes
Sony Classical 88985369642 (1 CD)
It’s not been all that long ago that Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater was sung by such opera luminaries as Mirella Freni and Teresa Berganza in the same manner as they sang onstage. In the meantime, though, the work has become the province of singers who are committed to historic performance practices. This newest recording with Sonya Yoncheva, who is in demand at leading international houses as Violetta, Mimi, and now Norma, and the bel canto specialist Karine Deshayes would seem to be a reversion to the earlier tradition. In fact, for Yoncheva, the 2016 concert at Paris’ Théâtre des Champs-Élysées was a return to the beginning of her career and her intensive work with William Christie. Although her voice has since matured, she sings with the detailed precision characteristic of outstanding Early Music interpreters. In the duets, the soloists harmonize beautifully with each other, and in the arias, they capture the expressive colors in Pergolesi’s music. Nonetheless, this performance seldom touches the emotional core of the work, with most of the expressive gestures too generalized. The same applies to the Ensemble Amarillis, who take little note of many of the dynamic markings in the score.

- Janet Perry: German and French Songs
With Jean Lemaire (pianist)
Songs by Duparc, Debussy, Fauré, Meyerbeer, Strauss, Mozart, and Liszt
Solo Musica SM 239 (1 CD)
The American soprano made her professional debut in the late 1960s and attained international prominence as one of a group of singers who frequently performed with Karajan. She sang Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier for Carlos Kleiber and was Böhm’s Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro. However, this disc of German and French Lieder is not a reissue; it’s a (relatively) new recording that was made about 10 years ago. (The reviewer mentions that the label is being coy about the actual date.) There doesn’t appear to be any sort of logical theme or program upon which the selection of songs is based, but the French pieces seem to suit her best. The Lieder by Mozart, and even more so Strauss, reach into extreme heights and depths, and Perry loses textual clarity in these areas. Her voice has for the most part retained its flexibility, and uncomfortable leaps into the upper register pose no difficulty for her. But a certain bitterness has crept into a timbre that never had a lovely sweetness to it, and at times, a loss of vocal substance is evident. Her technique remains solid, though.

SAVE YOUR MONEY

- Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen
Conductor: Christian Thielemann
Cast: Albert Dohmen, Linda Watson, Stephen Gould, Michelle Breedt, Endrik Wottrich, Eva Maria Westbroek, Kwangchul Youn, Hans-Peter König, Arnold Bezuyen, Andrew Shore, Gerhard Siegel, Christa Mayer, Ralf Lukas, Edith Haller, et. al.
Opus Arte/Naxos OA CD9000B D (14 CDs)
At the same time Naxos was releasing the Hong Kong Die Walküre, the label also reissued the complete 2008 Bayreuth Ring cycle. As the reviewer sees it, this reissue is primarily a documentation of the cult status that has developed around conductor Christian Thielemann, who is already represented in the discography by his 2011 Vienna State Opera Ring on Deutsche Grammophon. The booklet accompanying the Naxos set places the Maestro on “the victor’s podium” and predicts that he’ll go down in the annals of not only the Bayreuth Festival, but recording history as well. The reviewer observes that the latter part of that assertion can be justifiably questioned. Thielemann’s intimate knowledge of the partitur is undeniable, but his broad tempo choices remain a matter of taste and seem intended to stand in contrast to the rather analytical readings of the last several decades, from Boulez to Petrenko. Among the soloists in this set, there are scarcely any memorable performances.

- Pluhar: Orfeo Chamán
Conductor: Christina Pluhar
Directors: Rolf and Heidi Abderhalden
Cast: Nahuel Pennisi, Luciana Mancini, Vincenzo Caprezzuto, Emiliano Gonzales Toro
Warner/Erato 0190295969691 (1 CD; 1 bonus DVD)
Opernwelt’s reviewer is considerably less enthusiastic than his counterpart at Das Opernglas about Christina Pluhar’s opera that blends Greek and pre-Columbian mythology, complete with shamanistic rituals. He characterizes the work as a postdramatic pasticcio in which a few little “trifles” by Baroque composers Giovanni Battista Pederzuoli and Christian Ritter are inserted in Pluhar’s own music, written in “an attack of Monteverdian inspiration.” As such, it remains imitative rather than really original. It’s not so much historicism as “historical camouflage in the naïvest or also the worst sense.” The production from Bogotá’s Mapa Teatro offers a sort of animistic Zauberflöte ambiance with cardboard giant tortoises, campanulas, and South American “campfire romance.” There may be an audience for all of this, but in the reviewer’s estimation, Pluhar has clearly overstepped herself with this “self-homage.”

- Cimarosa: “Contro il destin che freme”
Arias composed for the daughters of the Ospedalitto and Mendicanti hospitals of Venice
Susanna Armani (soprano), Aldo Orvieto (pianist)
Dynamic CDS 7765 (1 CD)
This is one of the most scathing reviews I’ve read. The disc contains arias from oratorios composed by Cimarosa and other Italian composers at the end of the 18th century for the orphans of Venice’s Ospedali. What soprano Susanna Armani presents here, accompanied by pianist Aldo Orvieto, is of some of the most rock-bottom quality ever captured on recording. She has neither voice nor technique, to say nothing of interpretive ability. The reviewer observes that one can’t even enjoy this CD as the sort of unintentional parody exemplified by Florence Foster Jenkins, and adds that any listener who makes it through all 12 tracks should demand compensation for pain and suffering.

MAuer
February 8th, 2017, 06:25 PM
The great majority of recordings reviewed in the February issue of Das Opernglas (http://www.opernglas.de/) receive positive assessments from the critics, and even those in the “Pluses and Minuses” category don’t have serious flaws.

RECOMMENDED

- Braunfels: Ulenspiegel
Conductor: Martin Siegbart
Director: Roland Schwab
Cast: Marc Horus, Christa Ratzenböck, Joachim Goltz, Hans Peter Scheidegger, Andreas Jankowitsch, Tomas Kovacic, Martin Summer
Capriccio C9006 (1 DVD)
Till Eulenspiegel – if he was an actual person and not just a mythical figure – probably lived in the late Middle Ages. In most of the stories handed down over the centuries, he is depicted as a merry, cheeky prankster. However, Walter Braunfels’ three-act opera Ulenspiegel (as he spelled the name) is a very different sort of character, a Flemish freedom fighter who opposed the Spanish occupation (represented by the Duke of Alba) and the religious practice of selling indulgences. The composer wrote his own libretto based on the Belgian author Charles de Coster’s novel Thyl Ulenspiegel, which reflected a growing eagerness to fight among many circles in Europe that began in the late 19th century and culminated in the First World War. The opera, which premiered in Stuttgart in 1913, is “bursting” with scenes of battle and heroic courage. Although this work was popular with the audience, it didn’t go over as well with the critics, who disliked its “dense” instrumentation that created problems for the singers. The outbreak of war prevented any further performances, and by the time the conflict ended, much had changed – Braunfels included. Ulenspiegel aims strong criticism at the Catholic Church, and Braunfels’ wartime experiences led him to convert to that faith. He lost interest in the opera’s subject matter, and the ban on performance of his work during the Nazi era was enough to cause both composer and opera to be forgotten for several decades. Ulenspiegel was finally revived in Gera in 2011, and then performed in a chamber arrangement in Linz in 2014, the production that is seen on this DVD.
Linz’s converted tobacco factory provides an impressive location for Roland Schwab’s staging. Susanne Thomasberger used the facility’s technical capabilities for set designs that capture wartime confusion and help to create gripping scenes – i.e., the appearance of the insolent dispenser of indulgences whose red garments are designed to intimidate the populace, or the preparation for the witches’ burning, with hysterical, half-naked women screaming for help as they’re dragged to the stake. However, the other costumes, uniforms, and a wrecked auto suggest the time of the Second World War. Among the cast members, Marc Horus makes a charismatic Ulenspiegel and superbly masters this uncommonly difficult role. He smoothly shifts from the mischievous reformer who thinks he can set the world right to the fanatical, tragic hero, and if his tenor possessed even more glow and luster, his would be an ideal assumption of the part. As Ulenspiegel’s half-sister and lover Nele, mezzo Christa Ratzenböck shapes her portrayal of the self-sacrificing woman with great intensity, displaying a beautiful voice with a totally secure top. Baritone Joachim Goltz’s Provost is appropriately nasty and diabolical, while bass Hans Peter Scheidegger portrays Till’s father Klas as a sympathetic, upright, and honorable citizen. Martin Siegbart draws engaged playing from the Israel Chamber Orchestra that’s full of color and drama. His account of Braunfels’ partitur also underscores its strong Wagnerian influences.

- Handel: Theodora
Conductor: William Christie
Director: Stephen Langridge
Soloists: Katherine Watson, Philippe Jaroussky, Stéphanie D’Oustrac, Kresimir Spicer, Callum Thorpe
Erato 9029588990 (2 DVDs)
This top-drawer performance of Handel’s oratorio about early Christian martyrs comes from a 2015 staging by Stephen Langridge at Paris’ Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. The three-act work, set during the fourth century reign of the Emperor Diocletian, was regarded by Handel as one of his best compositions. The protagonists are the titular heroine Theodora and the equally steadfast Didymus, who refuse to renounce their Christian faith even when threatened with death. Langridge convincingly depicts the cruelties of Diocletian’s regime with impressive scenes. Flecks of blood on the walls mark the spots where people were shot (presumably by firing squad), and the sentencing of Theodora to prostitution is realized in all its horror without resorting to voyeuristic details. Katherine Watson lends a charismatic aura to Theodora and shows deep empathy for this strongly religious woman who never loses her belief in an eternal life in heaven as she endures torture and humiliation. Philippe Jaroussky portrays Didymus as a keenly sensitive man whose willingness to sacrifice himself for his faith has no limits, and fills his music with a truly heavenly beauty and purity. Stéphanie D’Oustrac makes a convincing Irene; Kresimir Spicer creates an interesting character portrait as Septimus; and Callum Thorpe, as a representative of Imperial might and a strict enforcer of the law, pairs a profound, villainous bass with sadistic facial expressions. Led by William Christie, the musicians and choristers of Les Arts Florissants give an exceptionally precise, deeply felt interpretation of Handel’s score. This is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and successful recordings of one of this composer’s oratorios.

- Aida Garifullina
Conductor/orchestra: Cornelius Meister, ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra
Arias from Lakmé, Roméo et Juliette, Sadko, The Snow Maiden, Le Coq d’Or, and Mazeppa; songs by Rachmaninov, Soloviev-Sedoy, and Tchaikovsky; anon. folksongs
Decca 4788305 (1 CD)
This is an auspicious debut recording by the soprano from the Republic of Tatarstan, who was first heard as Susanna at the Mariinsky Theater in 2013 and took home first prize in Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition the same year. Her striking voice displays an extraordinary combination of characteristics that makes it far more than simply an attractive lyric coloratura instrument. Her renditions of arias for Gounod’s Juliette and Delibes’ Lakmé display not only bravura vocalism, but are also filled with expressivity and emotion. In Rachmaninov’s famous Vocalise, the endlessly long breath Garifullina possesses isn’t just an end in itself, but a demonstration of a technically very well produced voice. The folksong “Allüki” is sung in her native Tatar language and, according to the reviewer, contributes to the beauty of the collection of Russian melodies heard on this disc. (My note: I suspect the Tatars do not consider themselves Russian.) Immediately touching and powerfully emotional, her interpretation of these songs is deeply touching and in no way kitschy.

- Marianne Crebassa: “Oh, Boy!”
Conductor/orchestra: Marc Minkowski, Mozarteum Orchestra
Arias for castrati or breeches roles by Chabrier, Gluck, Gounod, Hahn, Mozart, Massenet, Meyerbeer, Offenbach, and Ambroise Thomas
Warner/Erato 019295927622 (1 CD)
This magazine’s reviewer shares the enthusiasm of his counterpart at Opernwelt for this delightful recording by French mezzo Marianne Crebassa. In her commentary accompanying the CD, she reveals the enjoyment she receives from the wide variety of characters she gets to portray onstage and the chance to inhabit the psyche of adolescent males. That enjoyment is reflected in her engaged singing of the selections on this disc. What is described by the reviewer as her “musical excursion into the sublime world of sexual ambivalence” begins with Gluck and Mozart and continues through Meyerbeer, Offenbach, Gounod, and Massenet to Chabrier and Hahn. One of the arias is from Hahn’s seldom-heard 1925 opera Mozart, a very charming, melancholy piece in which young Wolfgang bids farewell to his Parisian amours. The mezzo has reliable and inspired partners in conductor Marc Minkowski and the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra.

- Sonya Yoncheva: Handel
Conductor/orchestra: Alessandro de Marchi, Academia Montis Regalis
With Karine Deshayes (mezzo soprano)
Arias from Giulio Cesare, Alcina, Theodora, Rodelinda, Agrippina, and Rinaldo, as well as Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas
Sony Classical 88985302932 (1 CD)
Like Opernwelt’s critic, this magazine’s reviewer notes that Sonya Yoncheva’s disc of Handel arias takes the soprano back to the beginning of her career, where close work with William Christie made her well-versed in Baroque style. Here, with the “highly competent” accompaniment by Alessandro de Marchi and his ensemble Academia Montis Regalis, she presents a program of selections from six of Handel’s operas, including a duet with mezzo Karine Deshayes, along with the well-known “When I am laid in earth” from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. She sings beautifully, with a radiant, amber-tinted upper register, and uses colorful nuances to fill her characters with life. There is just one tiny criticism: somewhat less of a tremolo in lyrical passages would be an improvement.

- Ann Hallenberg: “Farinelli: A Portrait”
Conductor/orchestra: Christophe Rousset, Les Talens Lyriques
Arias from operas by Riccardo Broschi, Handel, Porpora, Giacomelli, Hasse, Leo, and Vinci
Aparté AP 117 (1 CD)
The reviewer’s comments make it a little difficult to figure out whether or not he’s recommending this disc, but it appears that ultimately he is. In this live recording of a concert from the 2011 Bergen Festival, mezzo Ann Hallenberg takes on the challenge of singing music written for the star castrato Farinelli (née Carlo Broschi), who presumably also performed it. (Two of the selections are from an opera composed by the singer’s older brother Riccardo.) Among other composers represented here is Farinelli’s teacher Porpora, in whose behalf the star was active while a member of the Opera of Nobility that was Handel’s competition in London. It’s a pleasure to listen to Hallenberg sing this material, but unfortunately, everything sounds quite “normal” and misses that extra fascination, the delight and amazement that countertenors can produce in this repertoire. The fresh, gripping, and sensitive playing of Les Talens Lyriques under the baton of their conductor Christophe Rousset adds to the appeal of this CD.

- Nuria Rial and Valer Sabadus: Sacred Duets
Conductor/orchestra: Julia Schröder, Basel Chamber Orchestra
Selections by Bononcini, Caldara, Colonna, Gabrielli, Lotti, Pasquini, Propora, Alessandro Scarlatti, and Torelli
Sony 88985323612 (1 CD)
The Spanish soprano Nuria Rial and the German-Romanian countertenor Valer Sabadus have teamed with Julia Schröder and the Basel Chamber Orchestra to produce this “enchantingly beautiful” album of arias and duets from oratorios of the 17th and 18th centuries that were written by composers of the “Schools” centered in Rome, Bologna, and Naples. Of the 15 tracks on the disc, six are arias (three each for the two singers), six are duets, and the remaining three are filled with instrumental works such as Giuseppe Torelli’s Concerto grosso with solo violin. The selections have been recorded in chronological order, giving the listener a fascinating overview of Italian oratorios extending from Giovanni Paolo Colonna’s 1679 Salomone amante to Porpora’s 1748 Il Verbo in carne. Rial’s fresh, dewy soprano combines in the most intimate manner with Sabadus’ “seraphic” countertenor in the duets, while in the arias, each shows that he/she can interpret lyrical pieces as impressively as the virtuosic ones. Of particular note is “Aure voi de’ miei sospiri” from Gabrielli’s San Sigismondo, re di Borgogna, in which Sabadus’ mellifluous singing is hard to resist.

- Anne Cambier: Mozart/Haydn Lieder
With Jan Vermeulen (Fortepiano)
Etcetera KTC 1542 (1 CD)
Even with composers of the stature of Mozart and Haydn, there are still some relatively unknown works, especially among their art songs. On this disc, Belgian soprano Anne Cambier and Jan Vermeulen at the Fortepiano go on a “voyage of discovery” in this repertoire and present a selection of the most beautiful Lieder. That there are so many other gems among Mozart’s songs besides his famous setting of the Goethe poem “Das Veilchen” is demonstrated by the charming “Oiseaux, si tous les ans” or “Warnung,” (Warning), in which fathers are cautioned to keep an eye on their young daughters – and the young men who may have designs on them. With her light, silvery voice, Cambier gives the humor in these pieces an extra flair, and for the later Haydn songs, which he composed during his stay in England, she finds her own personal sound that’s full of élan, sometimes melancholy, but in many instances almost romantic.

- Robert Fürstenthal: Songs and Ballads of Life and Passing
Rafael Fingerlos (baritone), Sascha El Mouissi (pianist)
Toccata Classics 0354 (1 CD)
The Austrian composer Robert Fürstenthal was among the many European Jewish artists who sought refuge in the U.S. during the Nazi regime. While he built a new life for himself in the States and later became an American citizen, the loss of his homeland weighed so heavily on him that he ceased composing for decades. It was only after the reunion with Franziska, the love of his teenage years, that inspiration returned. Even then, he almost always used German texts – and showed “exquisite” taste, selecting verses by such writers as Eichendorff, Rilke, and Hofmannsthal. Stylistically, he was influenced by Schumann, Brahms, and Wolf, producing very melodious Lieder. Fürstenthal passed away on 16 November 2016, and the reviewer salutes the pioneering work of the label Toccata Classics in producing this recording of 20 of his songs and ballads. Baritone Rafael Fingerlos and his keyboard partner, Sascha El Mouissi, show great sensitivity in their interpretation of the melancholy, Late Romantic pieces, and when waltz melodies are heard in songs such as “Liebeslied” and “Notturno,” it’s easy to imagine the world of Old Vienna that the composer was remembering.

- “Schubert”
Amacord Ensemble, Eric Schneider (pianist)
Raumklang 10116 (1 CD)
The vocal ensemble amacord was founded in Leipzig in 1992 by former members of that city’s famed Thomanerchor (St. Thomas Church Choir), and consists of two tenors, a baritone, and two basses. With the cleverly designed program on this CD, the quintet presents Schubert in a different light. In addition to his countless Lieder for an individual soloist with piano accompaniment, he also set verses to arrangements for three, four, or five male voices, with or without support from the keyboard. In most instances, these pieces were composed for his friends and intended to be sung in private homes. In the selections on this disc, the members of amacord and pianist Eric Schneider display stylistic assurance and “phenomenal” homogeneity. The first song on this expertly edited recording, “Ständchen” (text by Franz Grillpartzer) is a gem and a real “earworm,” and the succeeding piece, “Leise, leise last uns singen,” is a charmingly humorous Lied in which the four gentlemen try to encourage a young lady who has nodded off during a concert to kindly wake up. It’s a genuine pleasure to listen to the 17 pieces, composed between 1813 and 1827, contained on this album.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Verdi: I due Foscari
Conductor: Sir Antonio Pappano
Director: Thaddeus Strassberger
Cast: Plácido Domingo, Francesco Meli, Maria Agresta, Maurizio Murano, Samuel Sakker, Rachel Kelly, Lee Hickenbottom, Dominic Barrand
Opus Arte BD 7197 (1 Blu-ray disc)
The beleaguered Doge Francesco Foscari may be one of Plácido Domingo’s best assumptions of a baritone role, and he really stamps this 2014 Royal Opera House production of Verdi’s opera with his voice and personality. He delivers an intense portrayal that conveys the conflicted emotions of a ruler and father caught between public duty and private affection, and is in excellent vocal condition, with strengths outnumbering weaknesses. Admittedly, the encounters between Francesco and his son Jacopo still sound as though the two figures are sung by tenors in spite of the different vocal colors of Domingo and Francesco Meli, the Jacopo. Meli’s voice is light but not shrill, and has the necessary shadings for both intimacy and drama. Even if his vocal production isn’t always flawless, the combination of cultivated singing, gleaming top, and dramatic intensity makes him convincing in the part. As Jacopo’s wife Lucrezia, Maria Agresta displays a similar mixture of impassioned singing and outstanding acting ability. The tricky high-lying passages in Lucrezia’s music hold no terrors for her, and she produces many beautiful, well-carrying piani in the upper register. Maurizio Murano gives a satisfying account of the Foscaris’ opponent Loredano, while Renato Balsadonna has the ROH Chorus well prepared for their extensive part in the drama. On the podium of the ROH Orchestra, Sir Tony Pappano strikes sparks with his interpretation of Verdi’s score, and provides exemplary support for his singers. Thaddeus Strassberger’s production emphasizes Venice’s dark side, with torture, intrigue, and imprisonment on the daily order of business, though set designer Kevin Knight gets carried away with his focus on different methods of torture. Mattie Ulrich’s lavish, imaginative costumes also seem to be more works of art than flattering, functional attire for the singers. The production team tries to use these elements and other ideas (acrobats) to enliven the performance, but at the same time, they divert attention from the father-son conflict that is central to the plot.

- Marie-Nicole Lemieux: “Rossini – Si! Si! Si! Si!”
Conductor/orchestra: Enrique Mazzola, Orchestre national de Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon
Arias from L’Italiana in Algeri, Tancredi, La Pietra del Paragone, Semiramide, Matilde di Shabran, La Gazza Ladra, and Il Barbiere di Siviglia; Comic Duet for Two Cats
With Patrizia Ciofi (soprano)
Erato 9029595326 (1 CD)
This album by the French Canadian mezzo begins with Isabella’s “Cruda sorte” from L’Italiana in Algeri, in which the heroine reinforces her assertion that she knows how to tame men with the quadruple “Si!” In this cavatina, Lemieux shows a fine sense of humor and makes witty points, but she’s also inclined to overdo things, as in the overemphasis on the word “bramano.” A comparison with the Rossini specialist Jennifer Larmore makes clear that a better-focused voice can draw more nuances from this aria than Lemieux does. In the selections from the opera seria such as Tancredi, she makes a favorable impression with her full tone and beautiful lyricism, but displays a conspicuous tremolo. There is a real delight at the conclusion of the CD, where she’s joined by soprano Patrizia Ciofi in the Comic Duet for Two Cats with text that consists entirely of the word “Meow.” One wishes for a little more sparkle in the playing of the Orchestre national de Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon led by Enrique Mazzola.

CROSSOVER

- Natalie Dessay: “Pictures of America”
Conductor/orchestra: Claire Gibauld, Paris Mozart Orchestra
Songs from American musicals and films
Sony 88985386282 (1 CD)
At the beginning of her career, the French soprano already worked together with conductor Claire Gibauld, and last September, they collaborated once again on this recording of popular American songs for which Gibauld wrote arrangements tailored to Dessay’s voice. In the 11 selections heard on this disc, the singer receives stylish accompaniment from the 13 musicians of the Paris Mozart Orchestra. Dessay, who is now retired from classical music performance, worked hard to give her very light voice a darker sound for this material and has been so successful that those who remember her operatic performances will hardly recognize her. One is astonished by her rendition of “On a Clear Day,” in which she conjures a wonderful mood with her beguiling, sensuous tone, and she gives appealing accounts of other “earworms” such as “I feel pretty” from Bernstein’s West Side Story, “Send in the Clowns,” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” The reviewer calls this “an enchanting CD for intimate hours.”

MAuer
February 9th, 2017, 11:57 AM
My bad -- Natalie Dessay has retired from the operatic stage, but she still sings classical music. Sony will be releasing her new recording of Schubert Lieder sometime this spring.

MAuer
March 6th, 2017, 06:36 PM
Here is the summary of reviews from the March, 2017, issue of Opernwelt (http://www.opernwelt.de/):

RECOMMENDED

- Mascagni: Guglielmo Ratcliff
Conductor: Francesco Cilluffo
Cast: Angelo Villari, Mariangela Sicilia, David Stout, Annunziata Vestri, Gianluca Buratto, Alexandros Tsilogiannis, Quentin Heyes, Sarah Richmond, et. al.
RTÉ lyric fm CD 152 (2 CDs)
Mascagni often referred to Guglielmo Ratcliff as his best opera, though it never attained the mainstream repertoire status of his Cavalleria Rusticana. The four-act tragedy is set to an Italian libretto by Andrea Maffei, based on Heinrich Heine’s 1822 drama Wilhelm Ratcliff. Events take place in northern Scotland during the early 19th century, where Ratcliff, an unsuccessful suitor for the hand of Maria, daughter of the laird MacGregor, has made a habit of challenging all of her other wooers to duels and killing them. Sure enough, Maria’s fiancé, Count Douglas, receives a challenge from Ratcliff, and actually gets the upper hand in the duel (presumably with swords rather than pistols). However, he’s unable to finish off his opponent after recognizing Ratcliff as the man who once saved him when he was attacked by bandits near MacGregor’s castle. In the final act, Maria is preparing for her nuptials with the Count when her rather dimwitted nurse Margherita reveals to the young woman that her mother and Ratcliff’s father had once been in love, but chose to marry others. They quickly realized their error and became lovers. When MacGregor found out about his wife’s affair, he murdered Ratcliff Senior, whereupon she died of grief. This is the cue for Guglielmo to show up, covered in blood from his duel with Douglas, and he tries to persuade Maria to elope with him. Remembering what happened to her mother, she refuses; her rejection drives him bonkers and he kills her, her father, and finally himself.
One of the reasons this opera never enjoyed greater popularity may be the extremely difficult title role, which Francesco Tamagno pronounced unsingable. It has an uncomfortably high tessitura, and in the longer monologues, requires declamatory outbursts that can lead the singer into screaming (and damaging his vocal cords in the process). Happily, this performance from the Wexford Festival has the young Sicilian tenor Angelo Villari as Ratcliff, who displays an uncommonly supple instrument, effortlessly produces the necessary stentorian tone, but is also capable of beguiling cantilenas. Mariangela Sicilia (Maria) doesn’t sound as relaxed and challenges her promising soprano to its limits; mezzo Annunziata Vestri is a compelling actress and probably made an even stronger impression onstage as Margherita. The remaining cast members are all adequate. Conductor Francesco Cilluffo has a keen feeling for the finer romantic colors in the score and demonstrates that Mascagni was more than just a veristic composer.

- Martinů: Ariane; Double Concerto for Strings, Piano, and Timpani
Conductor: Tomáš Netopil
Cast: Simone Šaturová, Zoltán Nagy, Baurzhan Anderzhanov, Abdellah Lasri, Tijl Faveyts, et. al.
Supraphon SU 4205-2 (1 CD)
Martinů himself wrote the French libretto for this one-act opera, basing it on Georges Neveux’s play Le Voyage de Thésée. The work is a surrealistic treatment of the myth of Theseus, Ariadne (Ariane here), and the Minotaur, in which the hero and the monster look alike and Theseus recognizes the darker side of his own personality in the creature. He can only move forward by conquering this dark, animalistic part of himself, and in doing so, leaves both it and Ariadne behind. That lady had the misfortune to fall in love with both Theseus and the Minotaur, and the opera concludes with the lyrical lament of the abandoned Princess. Ariane had its world premiere in 1961 at Gelsenkirchen’s Theater im Revier, followed by the Czech premiere in October, 1962. Recently, there have been staged productions in Lucerne (2009) and Moscow (2016), and concert performances in 2015 by both the German Symphony Orchestra in Berlin and Essen’s Aalto Theater. This recording is of the latter. Martinů’s partitur is clear, transparent, and lightly “oscillating,” with a motif borrowed from Mozart’s Der Schauspieldirektor and elements of folksong, neoclassicism, and bel canto. The title role requires a lyric coloratura soprano with a secure top, and Simone Šaturová has no difficulty with the extremely wide range of Ariane’s music. She is also able to make this figure’s deep insecurity apparent. Baritone Zoltán Nagy shapes the character of Thésée tastefully, without any superficial heroic poses, and bass Baurzhan Anderzhanov creates a three-dimensional portrait in the small role of the Minotaur. Conductor Tomáš Netopil and the Essen Philharmonic approach the score very carefully; the many “dark red garnets” (reviewer’s description) in the music don’t stand out, but are embedded with stylistic assurance. Netopil also preserves the work’s chamber opera character and doesn’t try to turn the piece into high drama. Since the opera only lasts 45 minutes, the CD is completed with Martinů’s Double Concerto for string orchestras, piano, and timpani.

- Piazzolla: Maria de Buenos Aires
Conductor: David Núñez
Cast: Delphine Gardin, Silvia Abalos, Gustavo Beytelmann, Roberto Cordova, Eduardo Ríos Centeno, Juan Carballo, Juan Carlos Tolosa, Javier Breton, Silvia Varela, Alicia Jardel, Ariana Cuevas, Sofia Stegmann
Neos 10807-08 (2 SACDs)
Piazzolla’s “tango operita” hasn’t lacked for advocates in the Old World, with staged productions and concert performances at various European houses, as well as studio recordings of the work. Yet the CDs by such international luminaries as Gidon Kremer and Vittorio Antonellini, who led the Piazzolla revival in the 1990s, offer more cozy warmth than crackling fire, and the honorable attempts by smaller and larger theaters to capture the rough tone of the piece never quite succeeded. So this new recording with the Venezuelan composer and violinist David Núñez conducting the Ensemble Musique Nouvelle can only be described as a breakthrough. Finally, this 100-minute work can be heard in its true, earthy form and in what the reviewer calls “a truth won with blood, sweat, and tears.” Delphine Gardin (Maria) and Roberto Cordova (in five different roles) bring flexible, colorful voices to their characters without falling into the trap of trying to produce a beautiful operatic sound. Gustavo Beytelmann makes the most of every word, every vowel and consonant in the “shimmering” figure of El Duende, while Silvia Abalos (Maria’s ghost), the eight choristers, and the Ensemble Musique Nouvelle bring the drama to a perfect conclusion with their “Tangus Dei.”

- Krassimira Stoyanova: “Verismo”
Conductor/orchestra: Pavel Baleff, Munich Radio Orchestra
Arias and scenes from Manon Lescaut, Madama Butterfly, Suor Angelica, Turandot, Edgar, Tosca, Adriana Lecouvreur, L’Amico Fritz, Lodoletta, La Wally, and Andrea Chénier
Orfeo 4011990899121 (1 CD)
This recital album by the Bulgarian soprano has been chosen as the March issue’s CD of the Month. Stoyanova is nearly “untouchable” technically, with superb expressive capability. She never aims for superficial tonal beauty or effect in her interpretations, but for a coherent, truthful portrayal instead. She also never breaks the musical line, but will occasionally stretch it as far as possible to probe the emotional shadings of the various figures. In the first selection, Manon’s “In quelle trine morbide,” she enchants with her silvery tone; in the second, Adriana Lecouvreur’s “Io son l’umile ancilla,” she spins an exquisite pianissimo on “un soffio è la mia voce” before letting the high A open up wonderfully on her breath. Her magnificent high notes are developed organically from the legato and never “ripped out” for the sake of (supposed) expression. Adriana’s “Poveri fiori” is uncommonly touching, while the longest piece here, “Flammen, perdonami!” (in which the heroine succumbs to bitter cold) from Mascagni’s Lodoletta, is even more stirring. If one has to find any “hair in the soup” with this disc, it’s that Stoyanova isn’t a genuine spinto – clear if one compares her rendition of Maddalena’s “La mamma morta” from Andrea Chénier to that of Callas. But even as a lyric soprano, she’s totally convincing in this repertoire. She receives subtle support from conductor Pavel Baleff and the Munich Radio Orchestra.

- Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Wagner, and Schoenberg: Lieder
Jessye Norman (soprano), James Levine (pianist)
Orfeo C 926 161 B (1 CD)
From the mid-1980s through the 1990s, the American soprano was at the height of her vocal powers, documented here in this recording of a Liederabend at the 1991 Salzburg Festival. One hears her fine legato and interpretive artistry in every selection, whether it’s her relaxed tone in Tchaikovsky’s chanson-like “Rondel” from his Six chantes, op. 65 (she actually sings four of the six songs), or the impressive musical arc she creates in “Der Engel,” which opens Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. The Strauss songs and Schoenberg’s Brettl-Lieder capture her amazing ability to scale back her enormous voice when needed and make it sound feather-light. She has a superlative partner in James Levine, whose interpretive skills match her own, and who is able to draw orchestral/instrumental colors at the very limit of a grand piano’s capabilities.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Bellini: Norma
Conductor: Renato Palumbo
Director: Kevin Newbury
Cast: Sondra Radvanovsky, Ekaterina Gubanova, Gregory Kunde, Raymond Aceto, Ana Puchar, Francisco Vas
Liceu/Major 814337013721 (2 DVDs)
Where the musical performance is concerned, Renato Palumbo does a solid job of leading the forces from Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu, while the strongest vocal contributions come from Ekaterina Gubanova with an attractively sung Adalgisa and Raymond Aceto’s noteworthy Oroveso. The many close-up shots reveal Sondra Radvanovsky’s habit of placing the tone against her upper row of teeth instead of allowing it to flow freely on the breath, with the result that her Norma occasionally sounds wobbly. Gregory Kunde (Pollione) is an experienced bel canto tenor and produces some beautiful piani, but otherwise manages the role through sheer exertion. Kevin Newbury’s production has a timeless/modern look to it, but doesn’t seem to make any particular impression – positive or negative – on the reviewer. What does make a decidedly negative impression is the aforementioned frequent use of close-ups, which often expose some awkward or clichéd facial expressions on the soloists. In this instance, less would probably have been more.

- Donizetti: Roberto Devereux
Conductor: Bruno Campanella
Director: Alessandro Talevi
Cast: Mariella Devia, Gregory Kunde, Silvia Tro Santafé, Marco Caria, Juan Antonio Sanabria, Andrea Mastroni
Bel Air 3760115301306 (1 DVD)
This production from Madrid has its problems as well, beginning with Mariella Devia as Elizabeth I, her soprano sounding worn in spite of her secure high notes. Gregory Kunde’s Essex is much like his Pollione, but there is a reliable Sara from mezzo Silvia Tro Santafé. Director Alessandro Talevi’s surrealistic staging has the Queen operating a sort of spidery extermination machine that could have come straight from a science fiction film. The Teatro Real’s chorus and orchestra are under the experienced guidance of Bruno Campanella.

- Rossini: Armida
Conductor: Alberto Zedda
Director: Mariame Clément
Cast: Carmen Romeu, Enea Scala, Robert McPherson, Dario Schmunk, Leonard Bernad, Adam Smith
Dynamic 8007144577636 (1 Blu-ray disc)
Evidently, Mariame Clément’s staging for the Opera Vlaanderen makes more sense if one is a football (a.k.a. soccer) fan, as the hero Rinaldo appears to have been inspired by the Madrid footballer (Cristiano) Ronaldo and his trainer, Zinadine Zidane. Certainly, the manner in which Enea Scala’s Crusader dispatches his rival with a “header” is reminiscent of an incident during the 2006 World Cup, and Clément has even chosen to set events inside a sports stadium. The sight of some burly knights running around in chain mail shirts is guaranteed to produce some chuckles, but then the director seems to be aiming for irony – also suggested by the final scene in which an Armida-like sex doll is wandering through the Crusaders’ ranks. Carmen Romeu was overtaxed by the title role when she sang it at Pesaro in 2014, and her performance here is no improvement. Among the men, Scala is the standout, overpowering vocally as well as physically with his toned body builder appearance, while Dario Schmunk makes a convincing Goffredo. Antwerp has one of the world’s most distinguished Rossini interpreters on the podium with Alberto Zedda.

- Donizetti: Poliuto
Conductor: Enrique Mazzola
Director: Mariame Clément
Cast: Michael Fabiano, Ana Maria Martinez, Igor Golovatenko, Matthew Rose, Timothy Robinson, Emanuele D’Aguanno, Gyula Rab, Adam Marsden
Opus Arte OA 809478012115 (1 DVD)
Mariame Clément is also responsible for this production from Glyndebourne, and her approach to Donizetti’s opera about early Christian martyrs is more successful than her treatment of Rossini’s work. Events occur in a neutral space with moveable black walls, relieved by occasional video projections, while the costumes suggest Eastern Europe in the 1950s. Conductor Enrique Mazzola draws brilliant playing from the London Philharmonic Orchestra, while Ana Maria Martinez offers a reliable portrayal of the heroine Paolina. Matthew Rose is a “profound” Callistene, but one can only wish that Michael Fabiano, as a vocally and dramatically over-the-top Poliuto, had taken a lesson from Igor Golovatenko’s cultivated singing as Severo.

- Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana/Leoncavallo: I Pagliacci
Conductor: Sir Antonio Pappano
Director: Damiano Michieletto
Cast: Aleksandrs Antonenko, Eva Maria Westbroek, Dimitri Platanas, Elena Zilio, Martina Belli (Cavalleria Rusticana); Aleksandrs Antonenko, Carmen Giannattasio, Dimitri Platanas, Dionysios Sourbis, Benjamin Hulett (I Pagliacci)
Opus Arte/Naxos OA 1210 D (1 DVD)
Despite the fact that Mascagni didn’t like his one-act opera paired with Leoncavallo’s in performance, “Cav and Pag” have become an almost inseparable tradition. From this perspective, one can appreciate director Damiano Michieletto’s efforts to visually link the two stories. All of the events take place in a Sicilian village on Easter Sunday during the late 20th century, so that at the beginning of Cavalleria Rusticana, Beppe is seen putting up an advertising poster for Canio’s touring players on the wall of the bakery where Silvio works. During the Intermezzo, the latter is spotted flirting with Nedda. In I Pagliacci, the wretchedly miserable Santuzza appears in front of the theater where Canio’s troupe is to perform. The approach in itself makes sense, but is undercut by having the same tenor singing Turiddu and Canio, and the same baritone as Alfio and Tonio – especially since neither Aleksandrs Antonenko nor Dimitri Platanas does much vocally or dramatically to differentiate his portrayals of the two characters. Eva Maria Westbroek’s impassioned Santuzza displays a marked vibrato, while Carmen Giannattasio is quite a chilly Nedda. Elena Zilio’s singing elevates Mama Lucia to a leading role, so it’s regrettable that her acting reminds one of the old silent films. There is a pair of promising newcomers in Martina Belli (Lola) and Dionysios Sourbis (Silvio). Sir Tony Pappano leads a convincing interpretation of both works by his Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus, showing a calm mastery of the verismo idiom while allowing the operas’ human tragedies to develop.

- Berg: Wozzeck
Conductor: Hans Graf
Cast: Roman Trekel, Anne Schwanewilms, Marc Molomot, Nathan Berg, Gordon Gietz, Robert McPherson, Katherine Ciesinski, et. al.
Naxos 8.660390-91 (2 CDs)
Wozzeck is a parade role for Roman Trekel and seems made for his “dungeon-dark” voice and richly nuanced characterization. He has exceptional partners here in conductor Hans Graf and the musicians of the Houston Symphony, whose playing is transparent, pointed, and multifaceted, with a modern-tempered sound. The apparent idyll that often glimmers through Berg’s music is as concisely shaped as his vision of the complete darkness in the human soul. Graf pushes aside any tendencies toward late Romanticism in favor of an expressionistic, three-dimensional depiction of the characters. The role of Wozzeck’s tormentor is superbly cast with Marc Molomot, whose beginnings as a soloist in Early Music ensembles is reflected in his knife-sharp diction. There is something nearly Mephistophelean in his malicious, roguishly squawking Captain with his derisive sarcasm. Robert McPherson brings an attractive light tenor to Andres, Nathan Berg declaims well as the Doctor, and Gordon Gietz is a staunch Drum Major. Unfortunately, the ladies are not up to the gentlemen’s standard. Anne Schwanewilms is a rather tomboyish Marie whose soprano occasionally displays a lush vibrato, and who doesn’t really suggest either the reserved innocent or the hard-edged woman. Only during the encounters with Wozzeck does her portrayal of the unhappy lover and mother gain more substantive contours; her hysteria becomes more evident. Particularly strong is her slip into madness in the first scene of the final act. Katherine Ciesinski’s Margret has a marked American accent that’s made even more apparent by the clear articulation of the other soloists, and it’s not until the third act that this figure’s true whorish nature comes impressively to the fore.

- Granados: Maria del Carmen
Conductor: Max Bragado-Darman
Cast: Diana Veronese, Jesús Suaste, Dante Alcalá, Larisa Kostyuk, Silvia Vásquez, Gianfranco Montresor, et. al.
Naxos 8.660144-45 (2 CDs)
Though it’s largely been forgotten today, Maria del Carmen was well received by the audience and most reviewers when it premiered in Madrid in 1898, and Granados regarded it as his best opera. The Spanish libretto was written by José Feliú i Codina, based on his own play of the same title. The action takes place during the late 19th century in a rural village in Spain’s Murcia province, where the farmhand Pencho and the heroine Maria are in love. He’s just returned from Algeria, where he fled after wounding the wealthy Javier in a dispute over water rights. To save Pencho from a charge of murder, Maria nursed Javier back to health and even agreed to marry him after discovering that he’d also fallen in love with her. This doesn’t sit well with Pencho, and a confrontation between the two men during a fiesta leads to them challenging each other to a duel. Efforts by both Maria and Javier’s father Domingo to dissuade them fail, and it’s only the arrival of the town physician, Don Fulgencio, and his revelation that Javier is terminally ill with tuberculosis that finally convinces the young man of the futility of the fight. He is reconciled to Maria and Pencho, and helps them to escape.
This is a live recording from the 2003 Wexford Festival, where the opera was revived and performed in a new critical edition by the Spanish conductor and musicologist Max Bragado-Darman, who is also on the podium of the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Belarus. Much of Granados’ score has a captivatingly poetic, Mediterranean quality with roots in Bizet and Spanish folksong, as well as a healthy dose of Puccini (there are some striking echoes of La Bohème). Still, the composer has developed a musical language that is distinctly his own, with a “magic” that enables it to achieve the urgency for which he was striving. One of his stylistic characteristics is the use of ritardando when the action is building to a climax, interrupting the dramatic flow as though to force the singers to pause. Much like Schubert’s use of the fermata, this actually has the effect of increasing the dramatic tension. It’s not easy for the soloists to assert themselves with this persistent need for restraint, and the most successful here is the tenor Dante Alcalá (Javier) with his free, rapturous top; he also clearly exceeds the baritone Jesús Suaste (Pencho) in expressiveness. Diana Veronese is described by the reviewer as “more an exaggerated Carmen than an introverted Maria,” and the higher her soprano rises, the more esprit it loses. Still, this recording is a welcome addition to the discography.

- Aida Garifullina
Conductor/orchestra: Cornelius Meister, ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra
Arias from Lakmé, Roméo et Juliette, Sadko, The Snow Maiden, Le Coq d’Or, and Mazeppa; songs by Rachmaninov, Soloviev-Sedoy, and Tchaikovsky; anon. folksongs
Decca 4788305 (1 CD)
The 2013 winner of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia competition and a member of the Vienna State Opera’s ensemble since 2014, Aida Garifullina has a light, somewhat steely lyric coloratura soprano with a secure top all the way to high E and a solid trill, but she’s more of a Musetta than a Mimi. The even, quick vibrato and limited individual approach to style and mood reinforce the impression of a monochromatic instrument. The content on this recital disc isn’t much of a help in that regard, either. Aside from “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette (which she sang at the 2015 Vienna Opera Ball) and the Bell Song from Delibes’ Lakmé, all of the other selections are from the Russian repertoire, among them songs written for piano accompaniment that are heard here in questionable orchestral arrangements. Perhaps it’s just as well, since her French is scarcely recognizable and lacks interpretive shaping. On her native terrain, however, she displays a greater range of expression. Her accounts of Rachmaninov’s arrangement of a Tatar folksong and Maria’s lullaby from Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa have a more individual character, and her timbre sounds enchanting in the arias by Rimsky-Korsakov – occasionally reminiscent of Lucia Popp’s voice in its sensuous, Slavic tanginess, though without the Slovak soprano’s delicacy. Garifullina was only 28 years old when she made this recording, and her potential is evident; what’s lacking is experience. She receives rich, subtle accompaniment from the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting) Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna under the baton of Cornelius Meister.

COLLECTION

- “The Inaugural Season – Extraordinary Met Performances From 1966-67”
Conductors: Thomas Schippers, Zubin Mehta, Karl Böhm, Richard Bonynge, Sir Colin Davis, Josef Krips, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, Lamberto Gardelli, Fausto Cleva, and Georges Prêtre
Includes complete recordings of Antony and Cleopatra, Turandot, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Lucia di Lammermoor, Peter Grimes, Aida, Die Zauberflöte, Otello, Madama Butterfly, and Rigoletto; highlights from Don Giovanni, La Gioconda, Lohengrin, La Bohème, La Traviata, Il Trovatore, Elektra, and Mourning Becomes Electra
Warner 811357018224 (22 CDs)
The current season is the Met’s 50th in the house at Lincoln Center, and to mark the milestone anniversary, Warner has issued this box set of recordings from the company’s first year in its new digs. Most of the material contained here has never been officially released before. While the opening production at Lincoln Center of Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra was considered a fiasco (not the least because it overtaxed the house’s technical capabilities), the audio recording doesn’t reveal it. Barber’s music is inventive in its use of orchestral colors, and Thomas Schippers leads an interpretation full of passion and spirit. The role of Cleopatra was tailor-made for Leontyne Price, and she creates a shimmering portrait of the Egyptian queen, with genuine love competing with vulgar sensuality and hunger for power. She has an equal partner in the young bass-baritone Justino Diaz as Antony, but Jess Thomas isn’t able to do much with the high-lying character tenor part of Caesar. The many smaller roles are excellently cast, beginning with Ezio Flagello’s Enobarbus and the mezzos Rosalind Elias and Belen Amparan as Cleopatra’s attendants. Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten, performed two weeks later, was an unqualified success, with Karl Böhm on the podium and a cast that included Leonie Rysanek, Christa Ludwig, James King, and Walter Berry – the same quartet of principals Böhm would conduct in Vienna and Salzburg. It’s regrettable that some cuts were made to the score, evidently to accommodate the tastes of New York audiences; Decca’s earlier studio recording of this opera is 30 minutes longer. The production of Britten’s Peter Grimes featured the role debut of Jon Vickers as Peter, with the Canadian Heldentenor writing interpretive history in his embodiment of the fisherman, revealing the character’s sensitive and brutal sides as well as the outsider status that drives him to paranoia. Sir Colin Davis’ stirring, atmospheric reading and the sensitivity and precision with which he guides the large cast and chorus also lend this performance reference quality. If Lucine Amara is occasionally a little too much the diva for the unpretentious Ellen, Sir Geraint Evans makes a strong Balstrode, while Lili Chookasian and Jean Madeira offer sharply characterized portrayals of Auntie and Mrs. Sedley, respectively.
Another high point of that first season was Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte led by the experienced Josef Krips. While the original cast had leading European singers in several principal roles (Nicolai Gedda, Hermann Prey, Lucia Popp, and Pilar Lorengar), the radio broadcast recording in this set has American soloists instead, and they evince no difficulties with the German dialogue. Roberta Peters had already sung the Queen of the Night at the Salzburg Festival; George Shirley is a heroic Tamino with secure high notes; and there are notable contributions from John Macurdy (Sarastro) and Walter Cassel (Temple Speaker). On the other hand, Theodor Uppman (Papageno) and Judith Raskin (Papagena) have more of a Singspiel sound.
In the Italian repertoire, many of the soloists heard on this set had already sung the same roles in studio recordings: Dame Joan Sutherland’s Lucia, Renata Scotto’s Butterfly, Renata Tebaldi’s Gioconda, and Anna Moffo’s Violetta. The same applies to Cornell MacNeil and Nicolai Gedda in Rigoletto, Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli in Turandot, Leontyne Price, Grace Bumbry, and Carlo Bergonzi in Aida, and James McCracken and Tito Gobbi in Otello. McCracken’s Moor and Gobbi’s Iago deliver an exciting performance, if not one that’s free of exaggeration, but while Montserrat Caballé sings beautifully, she gives little stature to Desdemona. In every case, the conductors function almost as support staff for the soloists, including the young Zubin Mehta, who also experiences some coordination problems between pit and stage during the choruses. Those who love the Met’s “opera circus” will enjoy these live recordings, but in most cases, the more disciplined studio versions are a better choice.

Soave_Fanciulla
March 8th, 2017, 02:31 AM
I always have mixed feelings about seeing a new post fro Mary in this thread. On one hand it's deep appreciation for the great work she does in making this accessible to us not-really-understanding-enough-German-to-read-the-original folks; and on the other hand it's a sinking feeling that I will want to add more to my ever-burgeoning Presto basket.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
March 8th, 2017, 11:57 AM
I always have mixed feelings about seeing a new post fro Mary in this thread. On one hand it's deep appreciation for the great work she does in making this accessible to us not-really-understanding-enough-German-to-read-the-original folks; and on the other hand it's a sinking feeling that I will want to add more to my ever-burgeoning Presto basket.
I guess those girls are now older and can almost fend for themselves and energetically protest when they are not being fed, so it's OK to buy more Presto CDs and DVDs.

Ann Lander (sospiro)
March 8th, 2017, 11:57 AM
I always have mixed feelings about seeing a new post from Mary in this thread. On one hand it's deep appreciation for the great work she does in making this accessible to us not-really-understanding-enough-German-to-read-the-original folks; and on the other hand it's a sinking feeling that I will want to add more to my ever-burgeoning Presto basket.

I second that. I love reading these even though I'm on a buying moratorium.

MAuer
March 8th, 2017, 06:11 PM
Following is the summary of reviews from the March issue of Das Opernglas (http://www.opernglas.de/). As not infrequently happens, the critics from this magazine and Opernwelt have decidedly different opinions about the quality of certain recordings.

RECOMMENDED

- Wagner: Die Walküre
Conductor: Jaap van Zweden
Cast: Petra Lang, Matthias Goerne, Stuart Skelton, Heidi Melton, Falk Struckmann, Michelle De Young, Sarah Castle, Karen Foster, Katherine Broderick, Anna Burford, Elaine McKrill, Aurhelia Varak, Okka von der Damerau, Laura Nykänen
Naxos 8660394-97 (4 CDs)
It’s hard to determine where this recording fits -- it clearly isn’t flawless, and yet the reviewer rates the whole as an “outstanding achievement.” Which I guess amounts to a recommendation. Jaap van Zweden and the Hong Kong Philharmonic deliver an account of Wagner’s score that is worth hearing. Although his tempo choices are quite slow, they maintain the dramatic tension and allow melodies to beautifully unfold; his forces produce a big sound when appropriate, but it’s intelligently nuanced and displays dynamic gradations instead of a constant forte. This artistic approach harmonizes well with Matthias Goerne’s lyrical Wotan. The baritone brings a Lied singer’s sensitivity to text and the ability to incorporate it within the musical line. He conveys Wotan’s agitation and wrath, his love and “divine humanity” without exaggeration, “spitting out” consonants, or resorting to unmusical means of characterization. Admittedly, recording this role was probably an experiment for Goerne, as singing forte takes him to the limits of his vocal capabilities and he benefits from the unusually close placement of the microphones to the soloists. The same isn’t true for the leading ladies, for whom the proximity of the mikes reduces the space in which their voices can expand and also makes it more difficult to conceal piercing or tremulous high notes. In the case of Petra Lang’s Brünnhilde, one hears an extremely powerful voice, some extraneous sounds, and notes occasionally approached from below. She still creates a moving portrait of Wotan’s favorite daughter, capturing her eagerness for the fray in her first scene and later giving contemplative shaping to the recitative passages. This interesting voice is always exciting to hear. Michelle De Young is a strong Fricka in spite of weak diction and clear vocal discolorations. As Sieglinde, Heidi Melton sings with great intensity, her dark soprano revealing wonderful colors; one only wishes for some more vocal control in forte passages and a sweeter tone in her piani. This is Stuart Skelton’s third recording of the role of Siegmund. If the listener is accustomed to his light, slightly nasal, and not completely pure voice, he/she can enjoy a performance by one of today’s best Heldentenors, who sings with considerable engagement, precise diction, and a sure feeling for both lyrical moments and great drama. A former Wotan, Falk Struckmann takes on the part of Hunding here. His appearances are all distinguished by authority, “fascinating” expressive power – and his characteristic vibrato-laden timbre. The troupe of eight Valkyries isn’t exactly subtle, yet they often capture the listener’s attention with special vocal colors or a very expressive treatment of the text.

- Berg: Wozzeck
Conductor: Hans Graf
Cast: Roman Trekel, Anne Schwanewilms, Marc Molomot, Nathan Berg, Gordon Gietz, Robert McPherson, Katherine Ciesinski, et. al.
Naxos 8.660390-91 (2 CDs)
This recording gets an unequivocal thumbs-up from the reviewer. On the podium of the Houston Symphony, Hans Graf leads an outstanding interpretation of Berg’s score, conveying its Expressionistic shrillness and capturing the absurd, unfamiliar dance rhythms in the scene at the beer hall. In between, however, are moments that evoke late Romanticism and are immediately moving. The excellent cast need fear no comparison with any previous recordings of this opera. Roman Trekel’s Wozzeck is a fundamentally good man driven to extremes by his environment. His attractive baritone displays a wealth of shadings, from delicate lyricism to desperate outbursts. Anne Schwanewilms is a light, girlish Marie, an inexperienced young woman caught in the middle whose misstep finally costs her life. Her simple, Lied-like rendition of the Bible-reading scene is touching. Nathan Berg gives a convincing portrayal of the cold, calculating Doctor, while Marc Molomot’s Captain could use a touch more cynical sharpness. A bit more vocal luster wouldn’t have hurt Gordon Gietz’s otherwise satisfactory Drum Major, either. Even though this is a live performance, the technical quality of the recording is exemplary.

Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito
Conductor: Jérémie Rhorer
Cast: Kurt Streit, Kate Lindsey, Karina Gauvin, Julie Fuchs, Julie Boulianne, Robert Gleadow
Alpha 270 (2 CDs)
Conductor Jérémie Rhorer is the star of this live recording from Paris’ Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, which features a very good, though not great, group of soloists. His reading shows Mozart’s final opera from its most advantageous side, as a work with sharply delineated characters and music freed of its ceremonial effect thanks to fluid tempos and supple articulation. Rhorer’s interpretation has tremendous vitality, thanks to the exciting way he and the orchestra Le Cercle de l’Harmonie breathe with the singers in structuring every phrase. In the title role, Kurt Streit impresses with the astonishing freshness of his tenor and his multifaceted portrayal of the Emperor. This Tito may be mild-mannered, but he’s never boring. However, Streit occasionally emits some wobbly tones or ones that sound as though they’ve been pushed out. Kate Lindsey’s round, dark mezzo with its somewhat guttural low register suits the breeches role of Sesto, and she phrases distinctively. The latter is especially true of Karina Gauvin as a dramatically explosive Vitellia. Her soprano is of a corresponding character, though she isn’t focused solely on vocal emphasis and brings forceful, intensive diction to her interpretation, which doesn’t suffer from the occasional sharpness in her timbre. Julie Fuchs and Julie Boulianne are a gentle Servilia and Annio, but aren’t lacking in rich tone. Robert Gleadow rounds out the cast as a light bass Publio.

- Hérold: Le pré aux clercs (The Clerks’ Meadow)
Conductor: Paul McCreesh
Cast: Marie Lenormand, Michael Spyres, Marie-Ève Munger, Emiliano González Toro, Éric Huchet, Christian Helmer, Jeanne Crousaud
Ediciones Singulares Collection French Opera ES 1025 (2 CDs)
The reviewer describes Louis-Ferdinand Hérold’s Le pré aux clercs as a masterpiece of French comic opera in the post-Rossini era. Librettist Eugène de Planard used a marginal episode in Mérimée’s historical novel Chronique du règne de Charles IX as the basis of a black comedy that takes place in Paris 10 years after the St. Bartholomew’s Eve massacre, with the final scene occurring on the titular clerks’ meadow that’s a rendezvous for people of all social classes as well as the site of numerous duels. Hérold has filled the opera’s 12 musical numbers, most of which consist of several parts, with a wealth of captivating, fresh, original melodies, spiced with all sorts of harmonic and rhythmic piquancy and a dash of sentimentality. Although he followed the form of Rossini’s Italian operas, Hérold’s composition, according to the reviewer, is a “super-pure crystallization of French musical spirit.” While the staged production of this work took place at the 2015 Wexford Festival, this recording was made later at the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, where a chorus and orchestra were available for the project. Paul McCreesh is best known as a conductor of great sacred choral works, and he approaches Le pré aux clercs with appropriate seriousness. The musicians of the Orquestra Gulbenkian seem to be practically sitting on the edge of their chairs in their eagerness to capture every detail in the pointed score. True, the dry acoustics in the recording hall made it difficult to create the sort of French “perfume” that the early performances at the Opéra Comique probably exuded. However, that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of hearing this “magnificent example” of a comic opera with a profundity that contains more wisdom than is often found in the “statements” of many monumental works. The soloists are most persuasive as a united ensemble perfectly attuned to each other. With their rather austere timbres, the two leading ladies don’t necessarily produce the most luxuriant, attractive sounds, but impress with their stylistic assurance and precise shaping of the musical line. As Marguerite de Valois, Marie Lenormand is a secure support in ensembles, while Marie-Ève Munger, as her lady-in-waiting Isabelle, has the strongest individual stature with her concert-worthy aria accompanied by solo violin. Michael Spyres (Baron Mergy) again proves himself one of the most outstanding interpreters of the French repertoire. He guides his beautiful tenor with total security and a tasteful admixture of the head register through the trickiest high-lying twists and turns. There are noteworthy contributions in smaller roles from Jeanne Crousaud (Nicette), Christian Helmer (Girot), Éric Huchet (Cantarelli), and Emiliano González Toro (Comminge).

- Hans Sommer: Rübezahl und der Sackpfeifer von Neisse (Rübezahl and the Bagpiper from Neisse)
Conductor: Laurent Wagner
Cast: Magnus Piontek, Hans-Georg Priese, Anne Preuss, Johannes Beck, Jueun Jeon, Kai Wefer, Alexander Voigt
Pan Classics PC 10367 (3 CDs)
Hans Sommer, who gave up his career as a mathematician to devote himself to composition, was a student of Liszt, friend of Wagner, and carried on a rather lengthy correspondence with Richard Strauss. During his lifetime, he was a very well respected composer, but his fame lapsed after his death in 1922. In recent years, his works have been gradually rediscovered, with Gera’s City Theater mounting a production of Rübezahl und der Sackpfeifer von Neisse in spring of last year. In legends and fairy tales, Rübezahl is variously a giant, a gnome, or a mountain spirit whose home is in the Giant Mountains, an actual range located along the border between Bohemia and Silesia. He’s often depicted as aiding good people, giving them medical advice or presents, but will take a fearful revenge on anyone foolish enough to mock him. Sometimes he also appears as a trickster. Sommer and his librettist. Eberhard König, concocted a plot that’s part fairy tale, part heroic epic, part artists’ drama, and part horror story. In the opera, the young painter Wido and Gertrud, the foster-daughter of the district governor Buko, are in love. Buko is a proper tyrant who cruelly exploits and oppresses the populace of Neisse, a city at the foot of the Giant Mountains. Wido is among those opposing him, and in desperation, calls for help from Rübezahl – who promptly appears. Rübezahl disguises himself as the local bagpiper (who happens to be the father of Wido’s friend Bernhard Kraft), and while seeming to be a simple musician, manages to create a good deal of confusion. The people of Neisse want Wido to lead them in the revolt against Buko, but Rübezahl dissuades him, pointing out that he can achieve more with his art than with a weapon. Not that the mountain spirit is about to let the villainous governor off the hook; Buko comes to a frightening end at the hands of the dead who have risen up out of their graves. With the bad guy out of the way, Wido and Gertrud are free to live happily ever after.
Even without the benefit of theatrical trappings, this performance reinforces the positive impression made by the premiere in Gera. Conductor Laurent Wagner carefully draws forth the fine details in Sommer’s orchestration and gives expression to the multifaceted partitur with the most varied tonal colors. Sommer didn’t always make things easy for the singers, who must assert themselves against the large orchestra over wide stretches of dramatic parlando (high-lying passages included) while maintaining flexibility and giving nuance to their characterizations. The best of the soloists in this regard is Magnus Piontek, who lends his big bass to the role of Rübezahl. Tenor Hans-Georg Priese effortlessly manages the demanding part of Wido, and one only wishes now and then that his voice had a little more gleam. Anne Preuss is quite a stiff-sounding Gertrud, but compensates with lovely piani, while Johannes Beck (Buko) has to force his dramatic baritone in the upper register. Jueun Jeon draws favorable notice in the high tenor role of Bernhard Kraft. All of the soloists are commended for the clarity of their diction, which makes it possible to follow the different plot threads even without a libretto in hand. (Though listeners who don’t speak German would very well like to have a libretto, translations included.)

- Lawrence Brownlee: “Allegro son io”
Conductor/orchestra: Constantine Orbelian, Kaunas City Symphony
Arias and scenes from Rita, Don Pasquale, La favorite, La fille du régiment; Dom Sébastien, Roi du Portugal; L’Elisir d’Amore, and I Puritani
Delos DE 3515 (1 CD)
Lawrence Brownlee’s first album, “Virtuoso Rossini Arias,” was nominated for a Grammy in 2014, and his newest disc devoted to Donizetti and Bellini confirms his status as one of today’s best tenors in the Italian operas from the first half of the 19th century. His offerings here are a pleasing mixture of well-known pieces and less familiar selections (the title is borrowed from an aria in Donizetti’s Rita). His rendition of Ernesto’s “Com’ è gentil” from Don Pasquale is delivered with captivating ease and elegance, and he invests “Ange si pur” from La Favorite with deep feeling. His radiant, superbly focused voice is ideally suited to the bel canto repertoire, and the only little blemish on this recording is his penchant for hanging onto high notes for the sake of effect. Conductor Constantine Orbelian evidently decided to just go along with him.

- Schubert: Die Winterreise
Johan Reuter (bass-baritone), Copenhagen String Quartet
Danacord DACOCD 759 (1 CD)
This is another recording that could be placed either in the “Recommended” category or the “Pluses and Minuses.” It’s unconventional, but it isn’t of poor quality. Die Winterreise is among the most popular of Schubert’s song cycles, represented by countless recordings and sung by every voice type except countertenors. (And now someone is sure to draw my attention to a recording of the work by a countertenor!) This latest contribution to the Winterreise discography by the Danish bass-baritone Johan Reuter is distinctive through its arrangement for string quartet. This version was prepared by Richard Krug, the cellist with the Copenhagen String Quartet, as part of an initiative by Copenhagen’s Royal Library, and was so successful in Denmark that the decision was made to record it. In the more assertive original version with piano, the traveler’s loneliness is more immediately perceptible than with the string quartet accompaniment. For those who have no objections to such reworkings, this disc gets the reviewer’s “warmest recommendation.”

- Schumann: Neujahrslied, op. 144 (New Year’s Song); Third Symphony (“Rheinischen”), op. 97
Conductor/orchestra: Dieter Wagner, Lviv Virtuosos Academic Chamber Orchestra
With Marcus Niedermayr (bass), Singkreis Wohlen, Gloria Philharmonic Choir
Diwalab.com (1 CD)
This disc contains the world premiere recording of Schumann’s Neujahrslied, op. 144, for soloist, chorus, and orchestra, composed in 1850 and set to verses by Friedrich Rückert. It’s among a number of Schumann’s works which the reviewer considers have been unfairly neglected for a long time, due at least initially to disparaging comments about the man and his music by the likes of Hans von Bülow and Wagner. Bass Marcus Niedermayr, the members of the Singkreis Wohlen and Gloria Philharmonic Choir, and the Lviv Virtuosos Academic Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Dieter Wagner all contribute to the success of this ambitious undertaking. The similarity between this 20-minute piece and Schumann’s Third (“Rheinischen”) Symphony, written during the same time period, is evident, so it makes sense to pair them on one CD.

- Lisa Tjalve: “Fyn Guldet” (Golden Funen)
With Heinz Walter Florin (pianist)
Songs by Carl Nielsen, Hilda Selested, and Nancy Dalberg
Villa Artist Music VA 38-16001 (1 CD)
Carl Nielsen, who was born in Nørre Lyndelse on the island of Funen, is at the center of this album by soprano Lisa Tjalve and pianist Heinz Walter Florin, with Danish folksongs and piano pieces. Hilda Selested, seven years older than Nielsen and also a native of Funen (Broholm Castle), is represented by seven of her Lieder, while five songs on this disc come from the pen of Nielsen’s student, Nancy Dalberg. Composed in the late Romantic style, these selections are pretty and charming to hear, especially when sung with such beautiful simplicity and intimacy as Tjalve brings to Nielsen’s “Sæk kun dit hoved, du blomst” (track 17) or “Underlige aftenlufte” (track 18). Those who listen closely will probably discover what Nielsen meant when he rhapsodized about his native island, describing the songs of Funen as having “grace, devotion, and waves of warmth.” It’s too bad the accompanying booklet contains neither the original texts nor translations.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Méhul: Uthal
Conductor: Christophe Rousset
Cast: Yann Beuron, Karine Deshayes, Jean-Sébastien Bou, Sébastien Droy, Philippe-Nicolas Martin, Reinoud Van Mechelen, Artavazd Sargsyan, Jacques-Greg Belobo
Ediciones Singulares ES 1026 (1 CD)
The Fondazione Palazzetto Bru Zane has done tremendous work in publishing carefully researched new critical editions, presenting concerts, and releasing recordings of forgotten French masterpieces of the late 18th through the early 20th centuries. But whether Étienne-Nicolas Méhul’s one-act opera Uthal, which premiered in 1806, can be considered a masterpiece is open to question, at least to judge from this 2015 concert performance in Versailles. One of the problems is the libretto by Jacques-Benjamin-Maximilien Bins de Saint Victor based on James Macpherson’s Ossian poems. In the story, Uthal has decided it’s time for his father-in-law Larmor to retire and has seized the old man’s lands. Larmor isn’t ready to be put out to pasture and enlists the aid of Fingal, chief of Morven. This puts Malvina, Uthal’s wife and Larmor’s daughter, in a real bind, torn between her love for both men, but her attempts to prevent warfare between them fail. After Uthal is defeated in battle, he’s sentenced to banishment, and it’s only Malvina’s offer to join him in exile that finally makes him see reason. He admits he was wrong, and he and Larmor make peace with each other. This meager plot is padded with all sorts of high-flown language, a large portion of which is contained in the spoken dialogue. The result is a lack of dramatic tension. Then there’s the music. In an effort to conjure a dark “Scottish” atmosphere, Méhul banished all lighter colors from his orchestration. There are no violins; instead, one hears horns, woodwinds, and bass violins. Harps are also present, since Larmor contacts Fingal via the bard Ullim. As interesting as this approach may seem, the monotonous darkness quickly becomes wearying. The writing for the soloists is also settled in the midrange and lower register, so that Yann Beuron (Uthal), Karine Deshayes (Malvina), and Jean-Sébastien Bou (Larmor) have little opportunity to shine and must rely on a careful treatment of the rather emotional text to shape their role portraits. Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques do their best to breathe some life into the pervasive gloom.

- Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde
Conductor/orchestra: Jonathan Nott, Bamberg Symphony
Soloists: Roberto Saccà (tenor), Stephen Gadd (baritone)
Tudor 7202 (1 SACD)
An outstanding performance by Jonathan Nott and the Bamberg Symphony is compromised by soloists who aren’t of the best. As music director of the Bambergers from 2000-2016, Nott led the orchestra to international renown, particularly through his standard-setting interpretations of Mahler’s symphonies. His dedication to this composer’s music is heard in every measure of Das Lied von der Erde, recorded during a concert in February, 2016. He’s mastered the difficult way between Leonard Bernstein’s powerfully emotional reading of this work and the clearly structured version of Pierre Boulez without producing a bland, middle-of-the-road account. Unfortunately, tenor Roberto Saccà is completely overtaxed in the difficult “Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde,” even in the lyrical phrase, “Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Tod.” Baritone Stephen Gadd turns in a much better performance, but it’s marred by his occasional strong vibrato.

- Thomas Hampson: “Tides of Life”
Conductor/ensemble: Candida Thompson, Amsterdam Sinfonietta
Songs by Schubert, Wolf, Brahms, and Barber
Channel Classics CCS 38917 (1 CD)
This is another recording where the original piano arrangements of the songs have been replaced by a version for other instruments – in this case, the string orchestra Amsterdam Sinfonietta. In 2013, the ensemble’s conductor, Candida Thompson, commissioned the British composer David Matthews with preparing this arrangement, and one must concede that he’s gone about the task with considerable skill. When the singer is accompanied only by a piano, one hears every nuance very precisely, whereas with a string orchestra, everything sounds more attractive and grand. That’s not always an advantage, and definitely not in the case of Brahms’ Four Serious Songs. These sharp, bitter pieces cannot take any orchestral “soft focus,” especially the last song, “Wenn ich mit Menschen und mit Engelszungen redete,” which sounds pallid and downright empty in this arrangement. At the time of the recording (2015-16), Thomas Hampson was in good voice, but his interpretation lacks a great deal in emotion.

- Anne Magouët and Nathalie Darche: “Méditation voix et piano”
Pieces by Brahms, Schubert, Fauré, Ravel, Villa-Lobos, and Chopin
Harmonia Mundi/Bayard Musique 308 477.2 (1 CD)
This disc by soprano Anne Magouët and pianist Nathalie Darche isn’t your typical Lied recital. Rather, it’s part of a series of recordings by the French firm Bayard Musique with music to listen to while one is meditating. Previous releases have contained the sounds of horn and harp, saxophone and piano, guitar and harp, and many other combinations. This one has voice and piano. Magouët sings 10 slow, decidedly romantic selections, among them Brahms’ Lullaby and Schubert’s “Ständchen.” Her beautiful, silvery-light voice is pleasing to hear, even when she turns familiar works such as Chopin’s Prélude, op. 28.4, or Ravel’s Pavane pour une infant défunte into vocalises. Admittedly, when she’s singing texts, such as in the German Lieder previously mentioned, her interpretive limitations become evident. Nathalie Darche’s playing is solid, but no more than that. But if one wishes to relax after exercise or a visit to the sauna, this collection of blood pressure-lowering music will do quite nicely.

CROSSOVER

Quartonal: “Everytime”
Sony 88985405422 (1 CD)
The a cappella quartet Quartonal, comprised of tenors Mirko Ludwig and Florian Sievers, baritone Christoph Behm, and bass Sönke Tams Freier, has been together for a decade and sings everything from Renaissance works to modern pop arrangements. This CD of popular songs contains selections such as “Everytime,” “Les Champs-Élysées,” and “Der Mond ist aufgegangen.” It’s amazing to hear with what precision the four produce the finest effects and the “phenomenal security” with which they shape the sort of nuances that one would normally expect from an instrument. It’s “unbelievable” what virtuosity they bring to “What shall we do with the drunken sailor,” though it doesn’t really have the atmosphere of a sea chantey. They pay tribute to the late George Michael with “Faith” and sing “Fresenhof” in Plattdeutsch (i.e. Low German).

MAuer
March 31st, 2017, 05:20 PM
There’s an interesting assortment of recordings reviewed in the April, 2017, issue of Opernwelt (http://www.opernwelt.de). Here’s the summary:

RECOMMENDED

- Salieri: Europa riconosciuta
Conductor: Riccardo Muti
Director: Luca Ronconi
Cast: Diana Damrau, Genia Kühmeier, Désirée Rancatore, Daniela Barcellona, Giuseppe Sabbatini, et. al.
Erato/Warner Classics 0190295889982 (1 DVD)
When La Scala reopened in 2004 following a three-year renovation, then-Music Director Riccardo Muti chose to mark the occasion by performing Salieri’s Europa riconosciuta, the same work with which the theater celebrated the inauguration of Giuseppe Piermarini’s Classic structure in 1778. After more than a decade, the production has now been released in video format. The plot is full of the usual twists and turns and complications, but basically involves the Tyrian Princess Europa, who is abducted by Asterio, the King of Crete, and compelled to marry him even though she loves Isséo. Years pass; Europa and Asterio have a son, she is called to become Queen of Tyre as the legitimate heiress to the throne, but renounces the position in favor of Semele and Isséo. The principal roles are all assigned to higher voices, with Europa, Semele, and Asterio sung by sopranos, Isséo by a mezzo, and the bad guy, Egisto, by a tenor. The plot is moved forward by means of short but extremely demanding arias, culminating in Europa’s “Numi, respiro,” with seemingly unreachable high notes and vocal “pitfalls” that have given the piece the reputation as unsingable. But Diana Damrau masters it – and the entire title role – with stupendous self-assurance and virtuosic coloratura in which high notes are integrated in the musical line instead of flung out. There are also commendable performances by Genia Kühmeier (Asterio), Désirée Rancatore (Semele), Daniela Barcellona (Isséo), and Giuseppe Sabbatini (Egisto). Maestro Muti makes a persuasive case for Salieri’s music while providing exemplary support for his soloists. The conductor’s dislike of Regietheater experimentation is well known, but he would have found nothing objectionable in Luca Ronconi’s staging or Pier Luigi Pizzi’s sets. The visuals are highly theatrical and the succession of scenes agreeably managed.

- Bizet: Le Pêcheurs de Perles
Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda
Director: Penny Woolcock
Cast: Diana Damrau, Matthew Polenzani, Mariusz Kwiecien, Nicolas Testé
Erato/Warner Classics 0190295893613 (1 DVD)
Diana Damrau is the leading lady in this 2015 production from the Met as well. Director Penny Woolcock has placed events in a modern Ceylon/Sri Lanka with a booming tourist business, using spectacular videos to suggest the omnipresent ocean and its potentially dangerous tides. As Leila, Damrau demonstrates her affinity with the French repertoire while displaying a voice that’s grown in fullness, roundness, and drama. Matthew Polenzani (Nadir) delivers a very intimate rendition of “Je crois entendre encore;” Mariusz Kwiecien offers a robust, concentrated Zurga; and Nicolas Testé makes a convincing Nourabad. On the podium of the Met Orchestra, Gianandrea Noseda subtly revels in the colors of Bizet’s score and is a sensitive partner for those onstage.

- Ann Hallenberg: “Farinelli: A Portrait”
Conductor/orchestra: Christophe Rousset, Les Talens Lyriques
Arias from operas by Riccardo Broschi, Handel, Porpora, Giacomelli, Hasse, Leo, and Vinci
Aparté AP 117 (1 CD)
Over the past 15 years, the opera world has developed an increasing fascination with the castrati who were the leading men of the Baroque and early Classical eras, a phenomenon reflected in the growing number of solo recordings devoted to these individuals and their repertoire. Farinelli (née Carlo Broschi) is represented by albums from Arno Raunig, Vivica Genaux, Max-Emanuel Cencic, David Hansen, Philippe Jaroussky, and now Ann Hallenberg. Although the best countertenors display an impressive tonal richness and a broad range of dynamic shadings, they lack those qualities that the 18th century English composer and musicologist Charles Burney associated specifically with Farinelli: a powerful voice of sweetness and wide range. These characteristics are more likely to be found in mezzo sopranos such as Hallenberg. She begins her program with Arbace’s “Son qual nave ch’agitata” from Riccardo Broschi’s Artaserse, which the composer tailored for his brother’s particular vocal gifts, and which gives her the chance to display her tremendous agility, precise trills, and “lightning-fast” octave leaps. In Dario’s largo from Broschi’s Idaspe, Hallenberg captivates the listener with her opulent low register; in Farnaspe’s aria from Giacomelli’s Adriano in Siria, she impressively uses ornamentation to color the text; and in her rendition of Mirteo’s aria from Porpora’s Semiramide riconosciuta, she manifests the desired sweetness and delicacy. The star castrato’s “transcendent” virtuosity is suggested by Arbace’s aria, “Cervo in bosco,” from Leo’s Catone in Utica, which the reviewer describes as six minutes of vocal pyrotechnics. Hallenberg’s account of this piece nearly takes one’s breath away, yet she is also able to summon the requisite emotional tranquility for Almirena’s “Lascia ch’io pianga” from Handel’s Rinaldo and gives a simple, cantabile performance of Acio’s “Alto Giove” from Porpora’s Polifemo. Only at the end of the album, with “In braccio a mille furie” from the aforementioned Semiramide riconosciuta does the mezzo reach the limits of her breath power and “snaps” for air in the coloratura. In this live performance from the 2011 Bergen Festival, she is accompanied by the “furiously” playing ensemble Les Talens Lyriques under the baton of Christophe Rousset.

- “ Dimitri Hvorostovsky Sings of War, Peace, Love, and Sorrow”
Conductor/orchestra: Constantine Orbelian, State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia and the Helikon Opera Chorus
With Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Irina Shishkova (mezzo-soprano), Mikhail Guzhov (bass), Igor Morozov (tenor), and Vadim Volkov (countertenor)
Arias from operas by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and Rubenstein
Delos DE 3517 (1 CD)
Before his health compelled him to put staged opera performances on hold, Dmitri Hvorostovsky had announced his intention of concentrating more on the repertoire of his native Russia. On this disc, recorded in autumn, 2015, with the Evgeny Svetlanov State Academic Symphony Orchestra, he presents the listener with a “concept” program rather than the typical aria recital, culminating in the 30-minute long final scene from Anton Rubenstein’s The Demon. The role of the lonely fallen angel desperately seeking earthly love – characterized by the reviewer as a sort of Faust, Méphistophélès, and Dutchman in one – ideally suits Hvorostovsky at this point in his vocal development. He has moved beyond the Kavalierbariton territory of Don Giovanni and Mozart’s Almaviva and emerged as a genuine heroic baritone, with more virility, weight, and “granite” in his sound. Not only Rubenstein’s Demon, but Tomsky from Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame and André from Prokofiev’s War and Peace are presented as dark seducers with a portion of nihilism in their avowals of love. That’s impressive in Hvorostovsky’s midrange and very secure low register, though when his voice comes under pressure in the upper register, it can move a bit off center – something that can still be chalked up to added drama. He has a superb partner in soprano Asmik Grigorian, who sings Tamara in The Demon and Natasha in War and Peace. Conductor Constantine Orbelian and the orchestra have stripped off layers of performance tradition “varnish” in this repertoire to produce radiant, sharply contoured music.

- Nuria Rial and Valer Sabadus: Sacred Duets
Conductor/orchestra: Julia Schröder, Basel Chamber Orchestra
Selections by Bononcini, Caldara, Colonna, Gabrielli, Lotti, Pasquini, Propora, Alessandro Scarlatti, and Torelli
Sony 88985323612 (1 CD)
The arias and duets presented by soprano Nuria Rial and countertenor Valer Sabadus on this CD were composed during the period when opera performances had been banned by the Church, leaving oratorios as a substitute for those missing the opera seria. With his dark timbre, Sabadus demonstrates in his account of the elegiac aria, “Cor imbelle a due nemici,” from Gabrielli’s San Sigismondo, re di Borgogna that rounded, flowing, beautiful tone belongs to the foundation of bel canto vocalism; in “Si pensi alla vendetta” from Caldara’s La frode della castità, he shows that agility and well-rounded coloratura are indispensable for dramatic, expressive singing. In the duets, his bronze tone blends beautifully with Rial’s delicate, silvery soprano. Her trills and the manner in which she integrates ornamentation in the musical line are exemplary. The singers’ finely-coordinated timing and phrasing receive careful, polished support from the Basel Chamber Orchestra led by Julia Schröder, who also performs as violin soloist in the ensemble’s performance of a Torelli Concerto grosso.

- Brahms: Die schöne Magelone, op. 33
Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Gerold Huber (pianist), Martin Walser (recitation)
Sony Classical 88985311022 (2 CDs)
This new recording of Brahms’ mammoth Lied cycle in a version by the poet Martin Walser has been chosen as the April issue’s CD of the Month. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau once called Die schöne Magelone the most difficult of all song cycles – and he would have known, being the first singer to establish Brahms’ opus 33 as a cycle rather than a collection of Lieder. Over a period from 1861 to 1869, the composer set 15 poems from Ludwig Tieck’s romance Wundersame Liebesgeschichte der schönen Magelone und des Grafen Peter von Provence (The strange love story of the beautiful Magelone and Count Peter of Provence) to music for voice with piano accompaniment. Tieck linked his total of 18 poems with prose segments, a pattern that has been repeated with the 15 songs in Brahms’ cycle. Tieck’s romance, which the poet based on a German translation of an anonymous 15th century French legend, recounts the adventures of Count Peter and the beautiful Princess Magelone, who fall in love, elope, and then are beset by ill-fortune, including separation and Peter’s infatuation with the Muslim woman Sulima. Eventually, the couple is reunited and lives happily ever after. Brahms’ opus places significant physical demands on the singer, requiring the sort of expenditure of vocal power normally associated with a full-sized opera role, to include tonal luster, carrying power, and big melodic arcs along with stamina and an excellent memory. The young composer also wrote with the sort of verve and freedom that would not be heard in his symphonic works for some time. He assigned a dominant role to the piano, so that even experienced Lied accompanists often feel a need to practice before taking on Die schöne Magelone. Christian Gerhaher allowed himself plenty of time to work on his recording of the cycle, probably because he sensed a need to find his own approach to the material. Then there is the matter of the interlinking prose, which to many modern ears sounds fussy. Gerhaher was fortunate in this regard, bringing the poet Martin Walser onboard to handle the figure of Count Peter. Walser shortened some of Tieck’s passages, tightened up others, and made some moderate additions to give the language more of a timeless quality. Gerhaher, Walser, and pianist Gerold Huber first introduced this arrangement publicly at a 2011 concert in Coburg, but the recording wasn’t made until the end of 2014 in the Bavarian Broadcasting studio. It’s possible that the cycle wasn’t recorded in sequence, as Gerhaher’s voice sounds more powerful and colorful at the end than it does in the beginning. It’s also possible he needed the intimate, sometimes sorrow-filled Lieder in the middle of the work to fully come to terms with it. “Wie schnell entschwindet so Licht als Glanz” (no. XI) is one of the songs at the heart of this recording, while the baritone brings out the melancholy in “Muss es eine Trennung geben?” (no. XII) as beautifully as the tenderness in “Ruhe Süssliebchen” (no. IX). The final song, “Treue Liebe dauert lange,” is delivered without any sort of emphatic apotheosizing, but instead is dominated by the contemplative attitude and emotional openness for which Gerhaher is justly admired. Gerold Huber’s playing fits well with Gerhaher’s interpretation, even if one often wishes for more forcefulness in the quieter passages and more calmness in the turbulent moments. In a bit of a bonus, Gerhaher recites Tieck's poems for which Brahms wrote no music. In sum, the reviewer finds this recording to be an unusual, atypical Magelone, but spellbinding for precisely that reason.

- Robert Fürstenthal: Songs and Ballads of Life and Passing
Rafael Fingerlos (baritone), Sascha El Mouissi (pianist)
Toccata Classics 0354 (1 CD)
As mentioned in the summary of reviews from a previous issue of Das Opernglas, Robert Fürstenthal was an Austrian Jew who fled his native land in 1939 to escape the Nazis, traveling first to England and then in 1940 to the United States. He eventually settled in San Francisco, where he worked for the Defense Department and then as an auditor. Although he had great interest in music as a young man in Vienna, singing Schubert Lieder and composing, he was in every respect self-taught, both as a singer and composer. After his retirement in 1985, he devoted himself full-time to composition and created an astonishing body of work, with approximately 40 chamber pieces and around 160 vocal works, prior to his death at age 96 this past November in San Diego. While he became an American citizen, Fürstenthal never stopped missing his lost homeland. Music was a way for him to maintain contact with his European roots. He wrote Lieder to verses by Rilke, Hofmannsthal, Eichendorff, and Hans Bettge (whose poem cycle Die chinesische Flöte provided source material for Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde). Stylistically, he followed the models of Wolf, Schubert, and Mahler, yet all of his compositions have their own musical language. In general, his songs have a rather dark, autumnal color, though his somewhat matter-of-fact settings of James Joyce’s “Sleep now” and “O cool” have more of a contemporary sound. On this CD, produced by Michael Haas, who was also responsible for Decca’s “Entartete Musik” series, the young Salzburg baritone Rafael Fingerlos brings an attractive timbre and intelligent interpretation to the 20 selections that are a representative sampling of Fürstenthal’s Lieder. He receives sensitive accompaniment from Israeli pianist Sascha El Mouissi. This wonderful album should go a long way to opening concert hall doors for the works of a remarkable composer.

- Brahms: Complete Duets and Quartets
With Juliane Banse (soprano), Iris Vermillion, Ingeborg Danz (mezzo sopranos), Christoph Prégardien, Markus Ullmann (tenors), Andreas Schmidt (baritone), Helmut Deutsch, Wolfram Rieger (pianists)
cpo 777 537-2 (3 CDs)
The label cpo finished its complete edition of all Brahms’ Lieder in 2009, and now has released (belatedly) this three-disc set of the composer’s duets and quartets that was recorded between 1997 and 2003. Included here are 12 opus numbers with a total of 80 songs. The only popular pieces are the Liebeslieder Waltzes, op. 52, though these are often performed in what the reviewer calls a “coarsened” choral version rather than by soloists. But, like the not as well-known Neuen Liebeslieder, op. 65, and the Zigeunerlieder, op. 103, they reveal the stiff composer of symphonic and chamber works to be a true contemporary of the “Waltz King” Johann Strauss the Younger, whom he admired. In these pieces, Brahms perfectly mastered the gaiety with melancholy undertones that characterized Victorian-era Viennese dance music. The soloists on these discs are all respected opera singers and Lied interpreters who deliver Georg Friedrich Daumer’s harmless, naïve texts in Brahms’ lively settings with wit, verve, and feeling worthy of Viennese operetta. Not all of the material included here is up to this standard; the dialogue-style duets, for example, are written in a simple, folksong manner suitable for at-home performances by middle class families. Still, there are some gems to be found among the quartets and pieces such as “Wenn ein müder Leib begraben,” op. 66/2, which was recorded memorably in the 1930s by Nadia Boulanger and her ensemble, or the Scottish folk ballad “Edward,” shaped as an unsparing dialogue with dramatic intensification by Iris Vermillion and Christoph Prégardien (no less convincing than Carl Loewe’s much more familiar setting of the same text). Those who enjoy Brahms’ Lieder will want this set, with generally excellent singing and Helmut Deutsch’s competent accompaniment. (The reviewer credits Deutsch as the sole accompanist, but in fact, Wolfram Rieger is at the keyboard in some of the selections.)

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Glass: Einstein on the Beach
Conductor: Michael Riesman
Director: Robert Wilson
Choreographer: Lucinda Childs
Performers: Antoine Silverman, Helga Davis, Kate Moran, Jasper Newell, Charles Williams
Opus Arte OA BD7173 D (2 Blu-ray discs)
The longest of Glass’ operas at five hours without intermission, Einstein on the Beach had its world premiere at the 1976 Avignon Festival, with Michael Riesman conducting the Philip Glass Ensemble, Robert Wilson directing, and Lucinda Childs choreographing. (Childs, along with Christopher Knowles and Samuel M. Johnson, also contributed writings used in the work.) Additional performances in Hamburg, Paris, Belgrade, Venice, Brussels, and Rotterdam quickly followed, with the opera appearing at the Met that November. In 2012, the original creative forces – composer, conductor, director, choreographer, and the Philip Glass Ensemble – came together to recreate the 1976 production, and on 16 March, the world tour was launched in Montpellier, France. This particular recording is from the January, 2014, performance at Paris’ Théâtre du Châtelet. Video director Don Kent has done a masterful job of using a variety of camera perspectives in a cleverly timed alternation between close-ups and full screen shots to capture the mantra-like repetitions in the nine scenes and the five “knee plays” connecting them. (The term is a bit of word play by Glass, comparing their function to that of the knee as a connecting joint in the body.) In spite of that, the nearly 30-minute long slow motion entrance of the 12 choristers, paired with Helga Davis and Kate Moran reciting Christopher Knowles’ text and accompanied by a dark, repetitive, three-tone “humming” from the electronic keyboard, is a test of the viewer’s patience. Certainly, the artificial tableaux in the “knee plays” of light, performers, masks, and a few (comic) backdrops are “perfectly” composed, and the precision displayed by chorus, instrumentalists (especially Antoine Silverman as Einstein/the violinist), and dancers in executing Glass’ patterns is admirable. But the hype and the pop culture “art revolution” of the ‘70s New York avant-garde is showing its age. With this tidy conservation for posterity, the once-iconic production has become what the reviewer calls a “frozen period piece,” a myth of itself.

- Lawrence Brownlee: “Allegro son io”
Conductor/orchestra: Constantine Orbelian, Kaunas City Symphony
Arias and scenes from Rita, Don Pasquale, La favorite, La fille du régiment; Dom Sébastien, Roi du Portugal; L’Elisir d’Amore, and I Puritani
Delos DE 3515 (1 CD)
If the tenor’s interpretive skills were on a par with his vocal gifts, this CD would be strongly recommended. The music of Donizetti and Bellini included here doesn’t have the quantity of virtuosic coloratura as does that of Rossini, the composer to whom Brownlee’s previous album was devoted, so his opportunities to display his outstanding agility are much more limited. What arias such as “Ange si pur” from Donizetti’s La Favorite or “A te, o cara” from Bellini’s I Puritani require above all is a complete legato, tonal beauty, and artistic phrasing – which Brownlee has in abundance. His high, precisely “seated” voice flows on the breath, and its soft, rounded quality is preserved throughout his range, even at extreme heights. But as the reviewer from Das Opernglas had observed, the tenor also has a proclivity for hanging onto high notes. He stretches the (very secure) high C in “A te, o cara” to the point that it breaks out of the flow of the musical line. The high D flat that ends Ernesto’s “Cercherò lontana terra” from Don Pasquale is forced, so that one can hear the effort he puts into this very high-lying aria. As in his interpretations of the Rossini arias, Brownlee is inclined to rely too much on the beauty and security of his instrument, and only makes a limited attempt to explore the expressive depths in the music. So his Arturo sounds pretty much like his Nemorino; his Italian Ernesto much like the French Tonio. What may be needed is a more demanding conductor than Constantine Orbelian with his conventional approach, someone who can bring out more of this singer’s immense potential.

- Terry Wey: “Pace e Guerra – Arias for Bernacchi”
Conductor/orchestra: Ruben Dubrovsky, Vienna Bach Consort
With Vivica Genaux (mezzo soprano) and Valer Sabadus (countertenor)
Arias from operas by Handel, Torri, Vinci, Gasparini, J. A. Hasse, Pollarolo, and Sarro
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88985410502 (1 CD)
Add Antonio Maria Bernacchi to the ranks of rediscovered star castrati memorialized with a recital album. In fact, the young Farinelli was so impressed upon hearing Bernacchi in Bologna in 1727 that he sought the older man out as a teacher, even though he was already well established in his career. Indeed, Bernacchi later founded the Bolognese singing school. These details and more are available in Silke Leopold’s very informative article in the booklet that accompanies this disc by the Swiss-American countertenor Terry Wey. He begins the title selection, “Pace e Guerra,” from Pietro Torri’s Lucio Vero with a passable, 10-second long messa di voce on the word “pace” before the hero challenges the gods with a barrage of coloratura. I admit I’m puzzled by the reviewer’s statement that Wey’s habit of always gliding over the “voiceless” or “unvoiced” B turns what should be furious excitement into agitated heckling. I actually listened to the YouTube clip of Wey singing this aria, and can’t figure out what that business with the “voiceless B” is all about, unless “H” in this case really means that letter – which is indeed silent in some words -- and not the musical note B, which is represented by H in German. But even if the reference is to a silent H, I still don’t understand what the reviewer is talking about . . . Equally unfortunate is the tonal imbalance that occurs when Wey tries to place dramatic accents and the “rattling” coloratura in arias from Handel’s Partenope and Carlo Francesco Pollarolo’s Ariodante. The “tangy” appeal of his otherwise very attractive voice, with a timbre the reviewer likens to an alloy of several metals, is most effective in the lyrical, elegiac arias such as Mitrane’s “Quell’usignuolo” from Domenico Sarro’s L’Arsace or the title character’s “Non disperi peregrino” from Handel’s Lotario. In any case, the supposition that Bernacchi was the brightest star among the virtuoso castrati is not confirmed by this disc.

HISTORIC RECORDINGS

- “The Art of Hans Hotter”
With Geoffrey Parsons (pianist)
Lieder and ballads by Loewe, Brahms, Schubert, Wolf, and Strauss
Decca Eloquence 482 0187 (2 CDs)
For a decade the Bayreuth Festival’s leading Heldenbariton in the postwar period, Hans Hotter was also an outstanding Lied interpreter, as his numerous contributions to the legendary edition by the pianist Michael Raucheisen demonstrate. Unfortunately, this reissue of Lied recordings made for Decca in 1973 when Hotter was 64 years old is likely to be indispensable only for his admirers, especially since he made earlier, much more satisfying recordings of the material heard here. By the early ‘70s, he was making only occasional appearances in opera; his vocal production is often nasal and his articulation of the text has what the reviewer calls something of a “chewing” about it. The most convincing selections on this set are some songs by Brahms and Strauss; the least successful are those by Wolf. On the plus side, Geoffrey Parsons’ accompaniment is “pure joy.”

- Hermann Prey: Schubert Lieder; Schwanengesang
With Gerald Moore (pianist)
Orfeo C 911 151 B (1 CD)
During the second half of the 20th century, Hermann Prey was among the finest interpreters of Schubert’s Lieder, later serving as both manager and performer at the Schubert festivals he founded in Bad Hohenems and Vienna. How gifted he was in this genre is demonstrated by this recording of a Liederabend at the 1964 Salzburg Festival, where he has an ideal partner in pianist Gerald Moore. Perhaps it’s due to the very brisk tempos Moore occasionally takes that Prey avoids any emotional excesses, opting instead for a restrained, contemplative tone. In any case, the baritone’s flexibility across his range is astonishing.

- Richard Strauss: Lieder
Gérard Souzay (baritone), Hilde Gueden (soprano), Dalton Baldwin, Friedrich Gulda (pianists)
Decca Eloquence 482 0274 (1 CD)
Like Prey and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the French baritone Gérard Souzay was among the leading interpreters of German art songs in the latter half of the previous century. His recordings of Lieder by Schubert and Wolf are an essential part of any collection, while his recital of Strauss songs, recorded on the Philips label in 1963 and now reissued as part of Decca’s Eloquence series, is less well-known. But also with this composer’s music, one is impressed by the quality of Souzay’s clear, lyrical voice and his cultivated piani and messa di voce. The elegance and ease of his singing especially suits those songs by the young Strauss. Also contained on this CD is a recital with soprano Hilde Gueden in which the young Friedrich Gulda appears in the capacity of a Lied accompanist. In 1956, Gueden still possessed the youthful, silvery tone that distinguished her Sophie in Erich Kleiber’s recording of Der Rosenkavalier, and her textual clarity is superb.

- Peter Schreier: Mozart Lieder
With Erik Werba (pianist)
Belvedere BCD08022 (1 CD)
Like Souzay, Peter Schreier is known for great but unpretentious vocal artistry. The leading Mozart tenor of his generation, the Dresden native is heard here in a 1978 Salzburg Festival concert with pianist Erik Werba devoted to the relatively few songs composed by the Austrian city’s favorite son. At the time, Schreier was at the height of his vocal powers, and his singing always sounds spontaneous, as though interpretive inspiration had just struck at that moment.

- Nicolai Ghiaurov: Russian Arias and Songs
Conductors/orchestras: Sir Edward Downes, London Symphony Orchestra; Atanas Margaritov, Kaval Orchestra and Chorus
With Zlatina Ghiaurov (pianist)
Works by Glinka, Rubenstein, Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Mussorgsky, et. al.
Decca Eloquence 480 5557 (2 CDs)
This two-disc set contains three recitals by the great Bulgarian bass. The one with Russian opera arias shows a voice of incomparable fullness and beauty, but only a limited interpretive ability. Much the same can be said of Ghiaurov’s recording of folksongs made in Vienna with a Bulgarian chorus that includes the popular “Stenka Rasin” and Song of the Volga Boatmen. Only the art songs, in which he’s accompanied by his first wife, Zlatina, display an artistic quality on par with the singer’s reputation. There one hears dramatic temperament, vocal flexibility, and a feeling for shadings and nuance. Unfortunately, the thin booklet included with the set doesn’t contain any of the songs’ texts.

- Cathy Berberian: Folksongs of the World
With Harold Lester (pianist)
SWR Music SWR19010CD (1 CD)
The American mezzo soprano Cathy Berberian was beyond doubt a “gifted vocal actress,” as the booklet accompanying this CD proclaims her, and an exceptional artist who resisted the traditional music business. That reputation is confirmed by this folksong recital which she recorded in 1978 with Stuttgart’s Südwest Rundfunk (Southwest Broadcasting). She sings in 16 languages, among them Hungarian, Finnish, Polish, Chinese, and Armenian, with some of the songs’ arrangements written by composers such as Ravel, Bartok, Copland, and Szymanowski. Berberian makes each of these “miniatures” a world of its own through her seemingly unlimited expressive capabilities and the fascinating manner in which her voice is constantly transforming. Regrettably, the folks at the Südwest Rundfunk saw no need to supply the texts for any of these songs, or at least a summary of their content. With Berberian, singing wasn’t about the display of vocal tricks, but above all the communication of content.

- Leopold Stokowski: A Gala Concert, 1963
With the Philadelphia Orchestra and Dame Joan Sutherland (soprano), Franco Corelli (tenor), and Susann Starr (pianist)
Testament SBT 1513 (1 CD)
Leopold Stokowski, termed a “genius” by Carlos Kleiber, had an enormous repertoire, though opera was only a small part of it. He did conduct performances of Mussorgsky’s original version of Boris Godunov (1929) and Berg’s Wozzeck (1931), but the only surviving opera recording with him on the podium is a 1961 Turandot from the Met. That’s a fascinating reflection of Stokowski’s exceptional talent for “tone painting” and makes one regret that he conducted operas so infrequently – a regret reinforced by this 1963 gala concert with the “brilliant” Philadelphia Orchestra that includes excerpts from five operas as well as Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody (with pianist Susann Starr) and George Enescu’s First Romanian Rhapsody. The program begins with the overture to Verdi’s La forza del destino, marked by strong temp contrasts and some of Stokowski’s typical fiddling around with the orchestration. There is a blazing account of Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils, described by the reviewer as a “maelstrom-like frenzy in the erotic abys.” The “histrionic high point” of the concert is supplied by Franco Corelli in his rendition of the Improvviso from Giordano’s Andrea Chénier; like his “Recondita armonia” from Tosca, it’s stylistically impossible, but as a demonstration of tenorial potency, also overpowering. Dame Joan Sutherland is better behaved in the Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor, though it remains a rather cool account in spite of her absolutely secure high E-flat – a gala performance and not theater.

COLLECTION

- “Leonard Bernstein: The Composer”
Includes complete performances of West Side Story, Wonderful Town, On the Town, Candide, Peter Pan, Trouble in Tahiti, Dybbuk (ballet), “Jeremiah” Symphony, Mass, Chichester Psalms; art songs
Conductors: Leonard Bernstein, Leonard Slatkin, Johnny Green, John Mauceri, Lehman Engel, et. al.
With Marilyn Horne, Patricia Spence, Nancy Williams, Rosalind Russell, Barbara Cook, Jennie Tourel, Frederica von Stade, Carol Lawrence, Jean Arthur, Marnie Nixon, Maureen Brennan, Boris Karloff, Jim Bryant, Julian Patrick, Robert Rounseville, Max Adrian, Alan Titus, Mark Baker, John Ostendorf, David Johnson, et. al.
Sony 88985345312 (25 CDs)
Among the leading international conductors in the second half of the 20th century, only Leonard Bernstein was also a successful composer. He left a relatively small body of work, most notably musicals, but there are also treasures to be found among his art songs, oratorios, and symphonies. This box set of 25 discs, many of them digitalized LP recordings from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, documents his compositional career. Naturally, musicals comprise a substantial portion of the material included here, and these often paid tribute to Bernstein’s favorite city, New York – its pace, craziness, (culturally ambivalent) dynamics, and “incomparable charm.” In listening to the recordings of West Side Story, Candide, Wonderful Town, On the Town, Trouble in Tahiti, and Peter Pan, one is impressed most of all by the vitality of the music, its wealth of melodic inventiveness, esprit, and sensitivity. Bernstein intentionally didn’t present himself as an avant-gardist with these works, but as someone who precisely listened to the voices in his surroundings. The music is strongly narrative and draws on Latin American influences (mambo, rumba, son) in a shrewd but respectful manner, with everything combined in an effervescent mixture of hedonism and authentic life. The most sensational contribution in these musicals comes from the Swing singer Rosalind Russell as Ruth in Wonderful Town. The composer himself is on the podium for his ballet Dybbuk, based on Jewish folk legends, and his “Jeremiah” Symphony, both of which have echoes of Shostakovich’s bruitism and deep, enigmatic melancholy. The art songs with orchestral accompaniment show the influence of Mahler and Korngold as well as a certain cinematic quality, but the latter isn’t a negative reflection on Bernstein. The reviewer observes that “illustrative semantics” are also found in the Lieder of Strauss and Wagner; Bernstein’s tone is simply gentler and more intimate, as in the sonnet “What lips my lips have kissed,” performed with wonderful expressivity by the contralto Patricia Spence and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra led by Leonard Slatkin. The same song sounds just a touch more beautiful, vulnerable, and ethereal when sung by Marilyn Horne with piano accompaniment by Martin Katz.

MAuer
April 3rd, 2017, 05:27 PM
There’s a fairly small number of recordings reviewed in the April, 2017, issue of Das Opernglas (http://www.opernglas.de/), and none of them are of operas. However, the overwhelming majority of them are recommended. Here’s the summary:

RECOMMENDED

- Philippe Jaroussky: “La storia di Orfeo”
Conductor/orchestra: Diego Fasolis, I Barocchisti
With Emöke Baràth (soprano)
Erato 9029585190 (1 CD)
On this cleverly conceived album, Philippe Jaroussky uses excerpts from three operas dealing with the Orpheus myth – Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (1607), Luigi Rossi’s Orfeo (1647), and Antonio Sartorio’s L’Orfeo (1672) – to create a “mini-opera” of his own. According to Ovid, Orpheus captivated gods, mortals, animals, and even inanimate objects with his singing, and while the French countertenor’s appeal is limited to modern audiences, its effect may be nearly as entrancing. His seraphic voice reveals a “magical beauty” of extraordinary charm and purity in these predominantly lyrical selections. The central piece of the album is the eight-minute aria “Possente spirto” from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, which Jaroussky sings with such ethereal loveliness that the reviewer calls it addictive. There is also an excellent contribution from soprano Emöke Baràth, who takes on the role of Eurydice in the duets. Diego Fasolis conducts his HIP ensemble I Barocchisti with his characteristic sensitivity for expressive nuances and tonal colors.

- Krassimira Stoyanova: “Verismo”
Conductor/orchestra: Pavel Baleff, Munich Radio Orchestra
Arias and scenes from Manon Lescaut, Madama Butterfly, Suor Angelica, Turandot, Edgar, Tosca, Adriana Lecouvreur, L’Amico Fritz, Lodoletta, La Wally, and Andrea Chénier
Orfeo 4011990899121 (1 CD)
Although she appears regularly at the world’s major opera houses and has been awarded the title of Austrian Kammersängerin, Krassimira Stoyanova is underrepresented on audio and video recordings. Yet, as this album illustrates, she’s on a par with the greatest in her Fach. Her interpretations of verismo arias reveals an “exceptionally polished” but always natural and spontaneous artistry, and she sketches wonderfully touching and psychologically probing portraits of the women she embodies. Whether it’s Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, Catalani’s Wally Stromminger, Giordani’s Maddalena de Coigny, or Mascagni’s Lodoletta, the Bulgarian soprano finds her own sound for each of them. She shapes the final scene in Lodoletta in such an exceptionally authentic manner that it makes one wish to explore more of Mascagni’s operas beyond Cavalleria Rusticana. On the podium of the Munich Radio Orchestra, Pavel Baleff draws playing of many subtly shimmering colors and atmospheric compactness from his musicians.

- Terry Wey: “Pace e Guerra – Arias for Bernacchi”
Conductor/orchestra: Rubén Dubrovsky, Vienna Bach Consort
With Vivica Genaux (mezzo soprano) and Valer Sabadus (countertenor)
Arias from operas by Handel, Torri, Vinci, Gasparini, J. A. Hasse, Pollarolo, and Sarro
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88985410502 (1 CD)
Proving once again that there’s no arguing with taste, this magazine’s reviewer, unlike his counterpart at Opernwelt, gives Terry Wey’s album devoted to the castrato Antonio Maria Bernacchi a decided thumbs-up. In this selection of arias from both well-known and unfamiliar composers of the 18th century, Wey displays a “flawless, uncommonly attractive” countertenor. He begins the opening aria, “Pace e guerra” from Torri’s Lucio Vero, with a perfect messa di voce before firing off virtuosic, breakneck coloratura. Much of the material here is similarly demanding, and he masters it with bravura. A particular pleasure to listen to is the trio from Vinci’s Il Medo in which he’s joined by mezzo Vivica Geneaux and countertenor Valer Sabadus. Conductor Rubén Dubrovsky leads the Vienna Bach Consort with a sure sense of style and keen feeling for effects.

- Schubert: Die Winterreise; Schwanengesang
Günther Groissböck (bass), Gerold Huber (pianist)
Decca 4814990 (2 CDs)
The reviewer quotes extensively from Günther Groissböck’s remarks in the booklet included with this double CD set of two of Schubert’s best-known song cycles. We learn that Groissböck needs a few days away from opera performances before giving a Liederabend so that he can fully adjust to the different interpretive style of the Romantic art song “miniatures.” The bass makes it clear that he’s under no illusions that he can compete with his “profound” instrument against the specialists in this genre. In fact, the strength of his interpretation lies in its enormous dramatic power and emotional force. He sees the narrator in the two cycles as a middle-aged man who, in consequence of disappointed love, has become conscious of the hardships and hopelessness of our existence. Particularly Die Winterreise has something of the “auto-psychotherapeutic” about it for the singer; the reviewer suggests there may be an inherently Austrian element one can experience to a special degree in Schubert’s music. Groissböck describes Schwanengesang as a sort of “habitual classical tradition;” his interpretation is powerful but always elegant. In all of the Lieder on these discs, his voice remains highly flexible, sometimes elegant and at other times robust and theatrical, and always with a velvety warmth and inner beauty. Contributing substantially to the vividness of these accounts is the stellar pianist Gerold Huber, whose uncommon expressivity and sensitivity toward the singer add to the dramaturgical impact of these works.

- Christiane Karg: “Parfum”
Conductor/orchestra: David Afkham, Bamberg Symphony
Songs by Britten, Ravel, Debussy, Duparc, and Koechlin
Berlin Classics 6198771 (1 CD)
The reviewer describes Christiane Karg’s newest album as a “CD for connoisseurs.” Those who enjoy a musical performance of the finest details and want to immerse themselves in the world of a poem so they can “listen to the echo of complex emotions” will want this disc. Karg has developed a program comprised exclusively of orchestral Lieder set to the Impressionistic and symbolic verses from the second half of the 19th century. Poets represented in these pieces include Baudelaire, Verlaine, Victor Hugo, Leconte de Lisle, and Tristan Klingsor (née Léon Leclère); among the settings are Ravel’s Shéhérezade, Debussy’s Le livre de Baudelaire (in the instrumentation by John Adams), Charles Koechlin’s Épiphanie, and three songs by Henri Duparc. Benjamin Britten is represented by his Impressionistic Quatre chansons française, which bears witness to his early compositional genius. It’s a pleasure to listen to Karg’s wonderfully atmospheric singing imbued with all sorts of “Parfums,” and she has exceptionally sensitive partners in conductor David Afkham and the Bamberg Symphony.

- Benjamin Appl: “Heimat”
With James Baillieu (pianist)
Songs by Britten, Brahms, Grieg, Ireland, Poulenc, Reger, Schreker, Schubert, A. Strauss, R. Strauss, Vaughan Williams, Warlock, and Wolf
Sony 88985393032 (1 CD)
The German noun “Heimat” can be translated as “home” or “homeland,” and with this Lied recital, baritone Benjamin Appl pays tribute to both of his. He’s a native of Germany (born in Regensburg), but lives in London, where he’s been recognized with the “Young Artist of the Year” award and chosen as a BBC New Generation Artist. His German roots are represented by many well-known Schubert Lieder such as “Seligkeit,” “Nachtstück,” “Der Wanderer an den Mond,” “Drang in die Ferne,” and “Der Wanderer,” along with Reger’s “Des Kindes Gebet” and Schreker’s “Waldeinsamkeit.” The melodic inspiration of Adolf Strauss’ “Ich weiss bestimmt, ich werd’ dich wiedersehen” (I know for certain I will see you again) offers no hint that this piece was written in 1942 in the Theresienstadt concentration camp or that Strauss would soon be transferred to Auschwitz. Appl celebrates his British home with six English language songs, including Britten’s arrangement of the popular “Greensleeves” along with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Silent” and pieces by Peter Warlock, John Ireland, and Henry Bishop. His beautiful, velvety, even tone is captivating, and his singing is “enormous(ly)” fascinating. He receives extraordinarily sensitive accompaniment from South African pianist James Baillieu, winner of the Wigmore Hall Song Competition.

- J.S. Bach: St. John Passion
Conductor/orchestra: Marc Minkowski, Les Musiciens du Louvre
Soloists: Lothar Odinius (Evangelist, tenor), Christian Immler (Jesus, bass), Ditte Andersen (serving maid, soprano), Lenneke Ruiten (soprano), Delphine Galou (contralto), David Hansen (countertenor), Colin Balzer (servant, tenor), Valerio Contaldo (tenor), Felix Speer (Peter, Pilate, bass)
Erato 01902995854058 (2 CDs)
With this recording of the St. John Passion, conductor Marc Minkowski is returning to the beginning of his career when he specialized in Baroque music, before he had expanded his repertoire to include opera from many periods. But given that operatic experience, it may not be surprising that his reading of Bach’s oratorio with his historic performance orchestra Les Musiciens du Louvre has a dramatic intensity about it. Its characteristics are apparent from the start: a dark, bass-rich sound and rhythms that always seem to be propelling things forward. The use of an organ instead of a harpsichord in the recitative passages underscores the powerful and deeply distressing tone for which Minkowski is aiming. In other parts of this work, his musicians display what great virtuosity they are capable of. Another distinguishing feature of this recording is the conductor’s decision to have his nine soloists also function as the chorus. This approach doesn’t reduce the drama in the performance, but rather makes the voices much more “immediate” and closer to the listener. Lothar Odinius brings a strong presence to the Evangelist, and if his account doesn’t have the tonal colors and textual awareness of his great predecessors, his direct approach paired with a warm, radiant timbre fit well into Minkowski’s interpretation. Countertenor David Hansen draws favorable notice with his robust singing, while Christian Immler brings a sonorous bass to Jesus.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- J.S. Bach: St. Matthew Passion
Conductor/orchestra: Sir John Eliot Gardiner, English Baroque Soloists
Chorus: Monteverdi Choir, Trinity Boys Choir
Soloists: James Gilchrist (Evangelist), Stephan Loges (Jesus), Hannah Morrison, Zoë Brookshaw, Charlotte Ashley (sopranos), Reginald Mobley (countertenor), Eleanor Minney (contralto), Hugo Hymas (tenor), Ashley Riches (Pilate, bass), Alex Ashworth, Jonathan Sells (basses)
Soli Deo Gloria SDG 725 (2 CDs)
A fine performance by the English Baroque Soloists, the Monteverdi Choir, and Trinity Boys Choir led by Sir John Eliot Gardiner is let down by a generally inadequate group of soloists. Sir John’s wealth of experience in this repertoire is evident in his interpretation, which explores all of the work’s possibilities. There is a finely-gauged balance between the narrative and transcendent (thanks to the beautiful, vibrato-free singing of the Monteverdi Choir) qualities of the oratorio, while the English Baroque Soloists lend a corporeality to the music without weighing it down. The individual instrumental voices are vividly shaped and gain prominence in the transparency of the total sound. Sir John’s tempos are fluid and he elicits a wide range of dynamics from his forces that never becomes mannered. The choice of soloists wasn’t so fortunate, beginning with the fact that the English-speaking singers don’t always have an easy time of it with the German pronunciation. Tenor James Gilchrist is a highly competent, contemplative Evangelist, but his light, slender timbre occasionally sounds a little small even for this part. As Jesus, Stephan Loges displays a bass lacking in security; the countertenor Reginald Mobley doesn’t have the sort of even vocal production to justify the assignment of several roles to him. Bass Ashley Riches (Pilate and bass soloist) is better in this regard.

HISTORIC RECORDINGS

- “The Art of Grace Bumbry”
Arias from operas by Bizet, Falla, Gluck, Gounod, Mascagni, Saint-Saëns, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, and Wagner, and from oratorios by Handel; Lieder by Schubert, Strauss, Brahms, Wolf, and Liszt; American pop/soul songs with Dionne Warwick
Deutsche Grammophon 4827626 (8 CDs, 1 DVD)
To celebrate the 80th birthday of the trailblazing soprano/mezzo soprano who was the first African-American artist to appear at the Bayreuth Festival (the “black Venus” in the 1961 production of Tannhäuser), Deutsche Grammophon has released this compilation of Grace Bumbry’s recordings. However, the selection of material is curious, to put it kindly. Half of the discs are filled with two obscure complete recordings of Handel’s Israel in Egypt and Judas Maccabaeus made in Salt Lake City in 1957-58 when Bumbry was 20 years old. At this early point in her career, she was not assigned any major parts and sings for perhaps only 5-6 minutes in each of the oratorios. On top of that, conductor Maurice Abravenal, leading the Utah Symphony and choruses, favored the big sound that was typical for performances of Handel’s music at that time. Another disc in this set is reserved for popular American songs such as “My Way” and “Everytime.” The remaining three discs document Bumbry as a Lied interpreter with a selection of songs by Brahms, Liszt, Strauss, Wolf, and most of all, Schubert, and (finally!) as an opera singer with arias by Verdi (lion’s share of the selections), Bizet, Gluck, Mascagni, Gounod, Saint-Saëns, de Falla, Tchaikovsky, and – naturally – Wagner, though the last-named only amounts to an eight-minute excerpt from Tannhäuser with Wolfgang Windgassen. Princess Eboli in Don Carlo was one of her parade roles, and she’s heard in the aria “O don fatale” twice: once with Sir Georg Solti, and another with János Kulka. There are also three additional scenes from the Solti recording included here, and she sings the Spanish noblewoman with great passion and “blazing” effects. Perhaps as compensation for this set’s rather meager representation of her operatic career, there is a bonus DVD with a complete performance of Carmen conducted by Herbert von Karajan.

- “Mario Lanza: The Best of Everything”
Arias from La Bohème, Rigoletto, Carmen, Tosca, Martha, Fedora, Aida, I Pagliacci, Turandot, and The Student Prince; selection of popular songs and folksongs
Sony 88985382642 (2 CDs)
One wonders what might have happened if the Italian-American tenor hadn’t listened to the siren song of Hollywood in 1947 and instead continued to pursue his operatic career. Or about the complete opera recordings he would have made on the RCA label if he hadn’t died of a heart attack at the young age of 38. Such questions seem to arise inevitably when one listens to this two-disc set of excerpts from his discography. His radiant voice has an absolutely magical and often captivating erotic effect regardless of what it is he’s singing. It was that quality which made him what the reviewer terms the “crossover artist par excellence.” He sounds as meltingly beautiful in such popular songs as “Be My Love” and “Bésame mucho” as he does in Puccini’s “Che gelida manina” and “Recondita armonia” or Verdi’s “Questa o quella.” This compilation offers an extremely colorful, diverse selection of material ranging from the great Italian operas to folksongs and American popular songs. He is accompanied by the RCA Victor Orchestra led by Ray Sinatra – yes, Frank’s relative (a cousin).

MAuer
May 4th, 2017, 05:25 PM
Summary of reviews from the May, 2017, issue of Opernwelt (http://www.opernwelt.de/):

RECOMMENDED

- Cesti: L’Orontea
Conductor: Ivor Bolton
Director: Walter Sutcliffe
Cast: Paula Murrihy, Xavier Sabata, Sebastian Geyer, Guy de May, Louise Alder, Simon Bailey, Juanita Lascarro, Kateryna Kasper, Matthias Rexroth, Katharina Magiera
Oehms Classics OC 935 (3 CDs)
Antonio Cesti’s L’Orontea, which premiered in Innsbruck in February, 1656, was one of the most popular Italian operas of the 17th century. In the story, Queen Orontea of Egypt has renounced love, even though her advisor Creonte counsels her to wed for the good of the country. All’s well until the painter Alidoro and his mother Aristea seek refuge at the Egyptian court after fleeing from the Phoenician Queen Arnea and then being set upon by thugs. Of course, Orontea falls in love with Alidoro, but Creonte opposes her marriage to a commoner. Meanwhile, Aristea becomes enamored of Ismero, who shows up at Orontea’s court and confesses to having instigated the attack on Alidoro at the order of Queen Arnea. (Won’t Aristea be surprised when she finds out her heartthrob is actually a young woman named Giacinta who has disguised herself as a man?) When Orontea comes upon Alidoro painting the portrait of the courtesan Silandra, she throws a proper hissy-fit and faints. Everything ends happily, however, when Creonte is found to be in possession of a royal medallion, which Aristea recognizes as belonging to Floridano, the long-lost heir to the Phoenician throne. The Prince had been kidnapped as a child by a band of pirates led by Aristea’s husband, and she subsequently raised the boy – called Alidoro – as her own son. With his royal credentials now established, Alidoro/Floridano is eligible to wed Orontea. (No idea what happens with Aristea and Ismero/Giacinta.)
This 2015 live recording from the Frankfurt Opera has a lot going for it and provides an exciting alternative to René Jacobs’ 1982 world premiere recording. The reviewer attributes the high quality of the Oehms set to the trust the Frankfurt production team (and presumably the conductor as well) placed in Cesti’s music, performing the three-hour long work almost without cuts. With a substantial portion of the score consisting of a “richly faceted” Sprechgesang, L’Orontea also represents an enormous challenge for the singers, and nearly all of those in Frankfurt’s cast acquit themselves well. Countertenors Xavier Sabata (Alidoro) and Matthias Rexroth (Corindo), along with tenor Guy de May (Aristea, a part he also sang with Jacobs) are superb. Paula Murrihy, the company’s celebrated Carmen, is able to scale back her mezzo to Baroque dimensions without sacrificing its rich, sensuous sound. Sebastian Geyer (Creonte), Louise Alder (Silandra), and Kateryna Kasper (Giacinta) master this finely-nuanced tonal language as though they’ve been performing such repertoire throughout their careers. With the comic figure of the philosophizing drunkard Gelone, Cesti requires the singer to continually switch back and forth between baritone voice and falsetto, and Simon Bailey rises to the challenge with humor and aplomb. Only Juanita Lascarro, double cast as Amore in the prologue and Tibrino in the opera proper, isn’t able to summon the lightness of vocal production that this music needs. Though playing modern instruments, the chamber music string group of the Frankfurt Opera and Museum Orchestra delivers a historically informed account of Cesti’s partitur under the guidance of Ivor Bolton, while the Monteverdi Continuo Ensemble gives dramatic shaping to the long recitative passages.

- Carl Heinrich Graun: Opera Arias
Soloist: Julia Lezhneva (soprano)
Conductor/orchestra: Mikhail Antonenko, Concerto Köln
Selections from L’Orfeo, Ifigenia in Aulis, Coriolano, Armida, Il Mitridate, Silla, Rodelinda, regina de' Langobardi, Britannico
Decca 4831518 (1 CD)
For Baroque opera aficionados, the name of Carl Heinrich Graun will not be unfamiliar. A recording of his Montezuma has been available for a number of years, and there have been several modern stagings of the work. René Jacobs revived Graun’s Cleopatra e Cesare in 1992 for Berlin’s Staatsoper unter den Linden, the opera with which the theater had opened 250 years earlier. Now more of this composer’s “treasures” have been brought to light with this excellent CD by soprano Julia Lezhneva and conductor Mikhail Antonenko. The Tragedia per musica L’Orfeo (1752) is represented by arias for three different characters that make one want to hear more from this version of the Orpheus myth, which also includes the figures of Eurydice’s rival Aspasia and Orpheus’ brother Aristeo. The three selections here reveal Graun’s wide expressive range, extending from Aristeo’s lament “D’ogni aura di mormorar” to Aspasia’s outburst of jealous fury, “Sento una pena.” Lezhneva’s voice has darkened somewhat at this point while retaining its instrumental quality, and she finds an appropriate interpretation for each of the pieces on this disc. With gripping energy, she dispatches the breakneck coloratura that Graun wrote for the virtuosic soloists at the Prussian court, where he was employed as music director. In comparison to her earlier albums, this one shows the soprano more willing to push the limits of musical expression, so that she doesn’t shy away from occasionally hanging onto notes or letting a certain shrillness into her tone when text and music permit it. Particularly impressive are her very imaginative ornamentations in the da capo sections, making them the high point of each aria. She has reliable partners in Maestro Antonenko and the Concerto Köln, though one occasionally wishes his treatment of the material would be as grippingly “radical” as hers.

- Marie-Nicole Lemieux: “Rossini – Si! Si! Si! Si!”
Conductor/orchestra: Enrique Mazzola, Orchestre national de Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon
Arias from L’Italiana in Algeri, Tancredi, La Pietra del Paragone, Semiramide, Matilde di Shabran, La Gazza Ladra, and Il Barbiere di Siviglia; Comic Duet for Two Cats
With Patrizia Ciofi (soprano) and Julien Véronèse (bass)
Erato 9029595326 (1 CD)
The French Canadian contralto has taken care to fill the program on this album devoted to Rossini’s music with more than beautiful arias and melodies, also including entire scenes with duets in which she’s joined by soprano Patrizia Ciofi or bass Julien Véronèse. It’s a wise decision from both a vocal and dramaturgical perspective. Her voice is shown to its most advantageous effect, whether she’s singing female characters or breeches roles. An example of the latter is Tancredi, undoubtedly the highlight of this recording, where the range and expression ideally suit Lemieux’s dark, full voice and sprightly agility. She produces effervescent coloratura as Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and shows a real flair for comedy in the Duetto buffo di due gatti that is the final track on this disc. With the selections from L’Italiana in Algeri, La Pietra del Paragone, Semiramide, Matilde di Shabran, and La Gazza Ladra that round out her program, Lemieux has created a fabulous Rossini portrait in which she’s superbly accompanied by Enrique Mazzola and the Orchestre national de Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon. The Erato label also receives kudos for the booklet enclosed with the CD, which contains a concise introduction to the material and texts for all of the pieces, along with translations in three languages.

- Juliane Banse: “Unanswered Love”
Conductor/orchestra: Christoph Poppen, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern
Includes Henze’s Nachtstücke und Arien (Noctures and Arias); Reimann’s Three Poems of Sappho; and Rihm’s Aria/Ariadne
Wergo WER 7360 2 (1 CD)
Women suffering the pangs of unrequited love is the thematic link among the three works soprano Juliane Banse has included in this new release on the Wergo label, which has been chosen as the May issue’s CD of the Month. The earliest of the three is Hans Werner Henze’s 1957 Nachtstücke und Arien, while Wolfgang Rihm’s Aria/Ariadne and Aribert Reimann’s Drei Gedichte der Sappho were written at the beginning of the 21st century. With the composer’s typical symbiosis of text and music, Rihm’s small monodrama, based on the Ariadne portion of Nietzsche’s Dionysos Dithyramben, encompasses all of the emotions of a woman who would rather be tortured and killed by Dionysos than be unloved and abandoned. (I thought she was ditched by Theseus.) Rihm’s handling of the text is distantly reminiscent of Monteverdi’s recitar cantando in that it demands a precision and clarity that seems downright old-fashioned when compared to the avant-gardists. That’s immediately apparent when contrasted with Reimann’s setting of three Sappho poems in the translation by Walter Jens. Sappho’s tempestuous, unfulfilled love “crystalizes” in great interval leaps and – especially in the second poem – an ecstatic, excited vocal style that instrumentally “tempers” the text while nine solo instrumental voices entwine around the singing in a captivating manner. The mid-century Nachtstücke und Arien is one of Henze’s early works in which the composer tried to free himself from the Germanic tradition through a new cantabile style inspired by Italian melos. It’s comprised of two arias set to love poems by Ingeborg Bachmann, who had also immigrated to Italy, along with three orchestral nocturnes whose style owes less to German Romanticism and more to the haunting, mysterious works of that “nocturnal” musician Mahler. This is a fascinating program which Banse has devised for a very personal album. Showing the greatest respect for the poetic language, she vocally captures the wide stylistic spectrum represented by these three composers and superbly masters the enormous technical demands of their writing. Equally impressive is the seriousness of her engagement with the characters’ desperate emotions. She receives sensitive support from the German Radio Philharmonic Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern under the baton of Christoph Poppen (who happens to be her husband).

- Schubert: Winterreise; Piano works by Scarlatti, Bach, and Mendelssohn
Julian Prégardien (tenor), Michael Gees (pianist)
- Wilhelm Müller: Winterreise
Recitation by Lotte Lehmann
- Schubert/Zender: Winterreise
Julian Prégardien (tenor); Robert Reimar (conductor), German Radio Philharmonic Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern
P.PRÉI (3 CDs)
In January, 2016, tenor Julian Prégardien established the media platform P.PRÉI, dedicated to exploring performance practices and interpretive history of selected compositions. (The name is based on the ancient Greek “Panta rhei,” which the reviewer translates as “everything flows.”) An examination of Schubert’s well-known Lied cycle Winterreise is the first project undertaken by Prégardien and his P.PRÉI colleagues, and has resulted in this three-disc set. The first CD stems from a November, 2015, concert by the tenor and pianist Michael Gees in which performance practice and shaping of the program conform to a 19th century model. The third disc contains a January, 2016, performance of the cycle by Prégardien, this time accompanied by a small orchestra in the 1993 arrangement by conductor and composer Hans Zender (previously recorded in ’93 by Hans Peter Blochwitz and in 1999 by Prégardien’s father, Christoph). Sandwiched between them is the second CD, a 1956 recording from the University of California’s archives with the great soprano Lotte Lehmann reciting Wilhelm Müller’s poems that Schubert set to music. The reviewer lauds P.PRÉI’s endeavor for restoring a deeper meaning to the currently oft-misused term “concept.” The 2015 recital may follow a 19th century model, but it isn’t really a traditional approach to this work, either. The program is based on a soirée given in 1862 by Clara Schumann and the baritone Julius Stockhausen, in which the succession of songs is interrupted by the insertion of piano “miniatures” by Scarlatti, Bach, and Mendelssohn as well as improvisations. The final song, Der Leiermann, is preceded by a minute-long piano improvisation and followed by the melodrama Abschied von der Erde, which Prégardien recites in a manner with too much hesitancy and restraint for the reviewer’s liking. However, the tenor displays considerably more courage in his singing to give full expression to the narrator’s shifting emotional states. With regard to Zender’s “composed interpretation,” the reviewer asserts that it’s probably more than a subjective perception that the fluctuating tempos, changing tonal colors, and “intensification” of emotionally significant verses by repetition lend the cycle a greater existential urgency. Referring to Goethe’s description of youth as “drunkenness without wine,” he says Prégardien’s impressive interpretation oppressively evokes the “drunkenness” of despair and sense of being lost to the world that fills these songs. Lehmann’s recitation of Müller’s verses may not please those who prefer a more austere approach; their heightened tremulous effect may come across as overkill. But after listening for a while, one can hear in the distressed complaining of a melancholic a person who is on the edge of madness.

- Puccini: Complete Songs for Soprano and Piano
With Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano) and Maria Prinz (pianist)
Naxos 8573501 (1 CD)
With her recent disc of verismo arias, the Bulgarian soprano has already demonstrated that the “dramaturgy of concentration” that characterizes a number of these Puccini songs suits her perfectly. She knows exactly in which places a little diminuendo, a tiny agogic hesitation, is needed, or when and how to shift her singing from clear declamation to soulfulness in order to achieve the composer’s desired effect. An example is “Morir,” with verses written in 1917 by one of Puccini’s librettists, Giuseppe Adami, which is not only a protest against the horrors of the First World War, but also asks fundamental questions about the nature of life and death. Puccini set the poem to a Lamento which seems to anticipate Liù’s “Signore, ascolta” (as well as the revised version of La Rondine) with its long, “sighing” vocal line that winds its way in questioning despair to painful heights before it is abandoned by the accompanying piano. Stoyanova is equally at home in the lighter, livelier, cheerful songs, where the “moderate Verist” Puccini can’t conceal the influence of Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms, and also demonstrates that he knows how to engender a bel canto-esque energy. Characteristic of these pieces is “A te,” which depicts the restlessness of a young man in love, complete with the teenager’s urgent, rapturous attitude toward sex, or the Romance “Storiella d’amore,” set to a poem by Antonio Ghislanzoni with its “libidinous subtext.” With her varied, richly colored, and only very seldom metallic soprano, Stoyanova can manage to sound extremely distressed and euphoric at the same time. The tendency toward melancholy in her voice develops convincingly, resulting in “fabulous” interpretations of Puccini’s “pre-heroic” compositions that the reviewer likens to finely sketched drafts of great paintings. One song is particularly noteworthy. For his exams in Milan, Puccini wrote “Mentìa l’avviso,” set to text by Felice Romani, which he later used as a sketch for Des Grieux’s “Donna non vidi mai” in Manon Lescaut. The effect of this piece is like a spooky scene containing nearly the entire Puccini of the operas. In the song, the ghost of an unbeliever rises up from the grave to music that at first suggests an arioso before growing blazingly excited and finally wild. Stoyanova’s account is “simply masterful,” and so vividly dramatic that it makes the listener shudder. At the keyboard, Maria Prinz provides unostentatious but not especially inspired accompaniment.

- Saint-Saëns: Mélodies avec Orchestre
With Yann Beuron (tenor) and Tassis Christoyannis (baritone)
Conductor/orchestra: Markus Poschner, Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana
Alpha Classics ALPHA273 (1 CD)
Among Saint-Saëns’ compositions, the best known are the perennial favorite Carnival of the Animals, the opera Samson et Dalila, the “Organ Symphony,” and his piano concertos. His art songs, with the exception of “Danse macabre” and “Le Pas d’armes du Roi Jean” set to Victor Hugo’s ballad, have generally been consigned to a “shadow existence.” Last year, the Greek baritone Tassis Christoyannis recorded a selection of Saint-Saëns’ songs with piano accompaniment for the Aparte label; now he’s joined forces with tenor Yann Beuron on this world premiere recording of the composer’s orchestral songs. (Admittedly, many of these were originally written for piano and subsequently arranged for orchestra.) The 19 songs (out of 25) included on this disc were composed between 1848 and 1919, yet despite the passing of seven decades, one can detect very little in the way of stylistic development. Saint-Saëns considered the music to be subservient to the text, but his pieces lacked the “captivating suppleness” of Henri Duparc, who finally succeeded in freeing the French piano song from the salon style. The most convincing of the selections on this recording are the narrative, ballad-like Mélodies such as “Les cloches de la mer,” for which Saint-Saëns supplied his own text, the aforementioned “Le Pas d’armes du Roi Jean,” and “Danse macabre” with its black humor. In contrast, the lyrical settings often sound extremely forced and impersonal. The best of them may be the late songs “Papillons” (1918) with its chanson-like charm, and “Aimons-nous” (1919), described by the reviewer as having the “coldly casual ecstasy of the kiss of death.” Beuron and Christoyannis prove ideal interpreters for Saint-Saëns’ dry style. They approach the melody completely from the text, which they declaim with the greatest precision, and yet are still able to display the lightness of vocal production and elegant articulation that are essential for the French Mélodie. The more lyrical pieces are sung by Beuron, his tenor sounding attractive and effortless even up into the head register, yet when necessary, he can also inject an ironic touch in his voice. Christoyannis is convincing in the ballads and lends a cool restraint to the exotic melancholy of the three “Mélodies Persanes.” The Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana led by Markus Poschner accompanies the singers reliably and with the necessary discretion.

“Schubert”
Amarcord Ensemble, Eric Schneider (pianist)
Raumklang 10116 (1 CD)
This appealing disc contains 17 of the more than 100 Lieder the young Schubert composed for multiple voices, many of them sung a cappella and initially performed on a weekly basis together with his friends, later in semi-public gatherings. Their texts typically deal with love, love’s woes, longing, and disappointment. The Amarcord ensemble, established in 1992 and made up of five singers (two tenors, a baritone, and two basses) who are all former boy choristers from Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church, captivate the listener with their magnificently “fine-tuned” voices – what the reviewer describes as “vocal chamber music for the esoteric taste.” Pianist Eric Schneider, one of the ensemble’s founders, is recognized by the quintet (presumably in an enclosed booklet) for his “enchanting and inspiring playing,” and Holger Schneider for his enlightening information about Schubert.

- Christiane Karg: “Parfum”
Conductor/orchestra: David Afkham, Bamberg Symphony
Songs by Britten, Ravel, Debussy, Duparc, and Koechlin
Berlin Classics 6198771 (1 CD)
For ages, France’s poets have been devoting verses to the particular scent of their capital city, something that’s especially true of the great writers of the 19th century like Victor Hugo, Paul Verlaine, and the Symbolists Mallarmé and Baudelaire. The term “perfume” repeatedly plays an important role in Baudelaire’s poems such as “Le balcon” from the Cinq Poèmes. On her newest album, Christiane Karg sings Debussy’s setting of Baudelaire’s text in the carefully orchestrated arrangement by John Adams with luxurious emphasis, underlain by the “supple, silky” accompaniment of the Bamberg Symphony under David Afkham. It must be noted that as soon as her soprano crosses its limits at the top, it becomes slightly rough-edged, harsh, and sharp, something also noticeable on her recent disc of Handel arias. Nonetheless, this CD with orchestral songs by Ravel (“Shéhérezade”), Koechlin (“Trois Mélodies”), Duparc, and Debussy along with four astonishingly French-sounding Britten settings of verses by Hugo and Verlaine generally “breathes a gentle fragrance” (the reviewer’s play on “Ich atmet einen linden Duft” from Mahler’s Rückert Lieder), even if now and then there’s an overabundance of “incense” and a touch too much dolcissimo. Anyway, the poems of Baudelaire, Hugo, Leconte de Lisles, and Tristan Klingsor (née Arthur Justin Léon Leclère) demand such softly flowing melodies, ethereal moments, and the sweetest sounds – for which Karg’s velvety voice is superbly suited. Everything blossoms, has magic and seductive beauty.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Donizetti: Olivo e Pasquale
Conductor: Federico Maria Sardelli
Directors: Ugo Giacomazzi and Luigi di Gangi
Cast: Bruno Taddia, Filippo Morace, Laura Giordano, Pietro Adaini, Matteo Macchioni, Edoardo Milletti, Silvia Beltrami, Giovanni Romeo
Dynamic 37758 (1 DVD)
In this romantic comedy set in 18th century Lisbon, the titular characters are a pair of merchant brothers of sharply contrasting temperaments, with Olivo being a volatile hothead and Pasquale good-natured. Olivo wants his daughter Isabella to marry the wealthy Cadiz merchant Le Brosse, but she’s in love with the apprentice Camillo. When she defies her father, Olivo blows sky-high, and Le Brosse is so shocked by the man’s violent reaction that he decides to help the young couple. Isabella and Camillo subsequently threaten to commit suicide if they aren’t permitted to wed, but Olivo calls their bluff. However, when he later hears a gunshot, he remorsefully realizes he’d rather have his daughter wedded to Camillo than dead. Of course, the pair isn’t really deceased, and when they show up on his doorstep, Olivo is happy to give his blessing to their nuptials. At the January, 1827, premiere of the opera in Rome, the role of Camillo was sung by a mezzo. Nine months later, Donizetti rewrote the part for a tenor and replaced the recitatives with spoken dialogue for performances in Naples, and this production from the 2016 Donizetti Festival in Bergamo follows the Naples model. Jacopo Ferretti, the librettist for La Cenerentola, also supplied the text for Olivo e Pasquale, and there is much here musically that is also reminiscent of Rossini’s great comic operas. Both performers and audience in Bergamo seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, thanks in no small measure to the directors Ugo Giacomazzi and Luigi di Gangi, who precisely capture the tone of this work with just the right amount of exaggerated caricature and visual stylization. The soloists’ characterizations are in the best Italian comedic tradition, especially those of baritone Bruno Taddia and bass Filippo Morace as the two dissimilar brothers. Soprano Laura Giordano is an enchanting Isabella, while mezzo Silvia Beltrami makes a lively Matilde (Isabella’s maid). The only drawback here are the tenors Pietro Adaini (Camillo) and Matteo Macchioni (Le Brosse), who sound like pop singers with classical training – though the reviewer finds that to be almost a plus in this conception of the piece.

- Mercadante: Francesca da Rimini
Conductor: Fabio Luisi
Director: Pier Luigi Pizzi
Cast: Leonor Bonilla, Aya Wakizono, Merto Süngü, Antonio Di Matteo, Larisa Martinez, Ivan Ayon Rivas
Dynamic 37753 (2 DVDs)
Though composed in 1830 for Madrid’s Teatro del Principe, Mercadante’s opera based on the story from Dante’s Divine Comedy didn’t receive its world premiere until 2015 with this production from the Festival della Valle d’Itria in Martina Franca. The libretto came from Felice Romani, who also authored the one for Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi, and interestingly, there are certain musical parallels between the two operas. Mercadante composed the role of his male protagonist Paolo for a mezzo, as Bellini did with his Romeo, and cast the part of the hero’s adversary Lanciotto with a tenor – same as Bellini’s Tebaldo. But the similarities largely end there. With a duration of over three hours, the succession of scenes, arias, and cabalettas for the three principals is seldom interrupted by ensembles, resulting in a “sing fest” (my quotation marks) lacking in compelling drama. Mercadante’s writing is full of melodic inventiveness, yet it has no real individual personality. The production by Pier Luigi Pizzi, who also designed the sets and costumes, doesn’t do much to counteract the opera’s static nature. Events take place on an empty stage, with only the interior court façade of the Palazzo Ducale as a backdrop; the soloists are dressed in color-coded (Francesca = red, Paolo = blue, Lanciotto = yellow, Chorus = white), flowing robes that constantly billow in the wind. There is hardly any movement save during some of the arias, during which the singers strut along the stage apron as though on a runway. That the whole only just escapes becoming a concert performance in costume is due to the efforts of Fabio Luisi, who does his best to infuse the score with dramatic tension while eliciting a high degree of accuracy from the musicians (not always the case in Martina Franca) and supporting those onstage. The cast is comprised primarily of young singers, all of whom create a favorable impression and promise much for the future. Among the standouts is the striking Spanish soprano Leonor Bonilla, whose portrayal of Francesca combines blazing temperament with assured bel canto style. The Japanese mezzo Aya Wakizono is only slightly less impressive in the breeches role of Paolo, while the Turkish tenor Merto Süngü compensates for a rather piercing timbre with notable carrying power, especially in his upper register. In the minor role of Guido, Antonio Di Matteo draws positive attention with his imposing bass.

- Philippe Jaroussky: “La storia di Orfeo”
Conductor/orchestra: Diego Fasolis, I Barocchisti
With Emöke Baràth (soprano)
Excerpts from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, Luigi Rossi’s Orfeo, and Antonio Sartori’s L’Orfeo
Erato 9029585190 (1 CD)
Though he sings exquisitely, Philippe Jaroussky’s pasticcio-like account of the Orpheus myth with selections from three operas dealing with the story is not without problems. Unlike Rossi and Sartori, who wrote the role of Orfeo for a castrato, Monteverdi cast his hero with a tenor. When sung by a countertenor, the character of Monteverdi’s music changes, sounding softer and more mannered. Matters are not helped by Sartori’s theatrical reduction of the myth to a banal marital crisis, which is distorted by Jaroussky’s choice of material. But in spite of the program’s artificiality, the singer’s voice displays its customary substantive, beautiful tone and range of shadings, paired with virtuosity, subtlety, and expressivity. The reviewer describes his rendition of Monteverdi’s “Possente spirto” as “pure magic” (the altered character of the music evidently notwithstanding). Jaroussky has an equal partner in the Eurydice of soprano Emöke Baràth, whose account of the Lamento from Orfeo is as memorable as the countertenor’s “Possente spirto.” Her beautiful, flawless performance is filled with nuance, and she’s less focused on outward effects than the often rather mannered Jaroussky. The soloists are joined by conductor Diego Fasolis and his HIP ensemble I Barrochisti. Unfortunately, Fasolis exhibits a tendency to overdo rapid tempos and make them rhythmically pop – a current trend the reviewer calls “fundamentally wrong,” as it robs the music of its hesitant, contemplative quality.

- Xavier Sabata: “Catharsis”
Conductor/orchestra: George Petrou, Armonia Atenea
Arias by Handel, Vivaldi, Caldara, Hasse, Ariosti, Sarro, Orlandini, Conti, and Torri
Aparte AP 143 (1 CD)
This compilation of arias by familiar and lesser-known composers active in the first half of the 18th century by countertenor Xavier Sabata follows a proven dramaturgy, with rapid pieces alternating with slower ones, and lively selections followed by more contemplative ones. The unfamiliar arias often amount to little more than the routine product of musical “mass production,” and are not helped by the monotony engendered by Sabata’s extremely impersonal and seldom really gripping interpretations. He possesses a lean, flexible, technically well-produced voice, but without any individual expressive qualities. He rarely develops any tonal colors and tends toward a flickering sound in rapid, fluid passages. Sabata is most successful in those pieces where the music itself provides variety, such as “Gelido in ogni vena” from Vivaldi’s Farnace with its strong accents and contrasting effects (overemphasized by conductor George Petrou and his Armonia Atenea), or the scene from Handel’s Admeto with its dynamic contrasts. In his relaxed account of the tranquil aria from Hasse’s early Classical oratorio La conversion di Sant’Agostino, oboes and horns lend a welcome relief from the almost uniform string accompaniment. The reviewer’s comment about Diego Fasolis on Philippe Jaroussky’s disc also applies to Petrou here.

- Benjamin Appl: “Heimat”
With James Baillieu (pianist)
Songs by Britten, Brahms, Grieg, Ireland, Poulenc, Reger, Schreker, Schubert, A. Strauss, R. Strauss, Vaughan Williams, Warlock, and Wolf
Sony 88985393032 (1 CD)
This Lied album by the German baritone and London resident Benjamin Appl has far more pluses than minuses. The latter consist of a voice that is not yet fully developed dynamically, a limited expressive range, and a tendency to become hectoring in forte declamatory passages. Appl developed the disc’s theme from a text contributed by Neil MacGregor, which considers the linguistic field and emotional world associated with the word “Heimat” – “home” or “homeland” in English. Based on his own situation, the baritone has created a program of German and English songs. To his credit, he doesn’t indulge in the sort of mawkish sound that crosses the line between sweetness or intimacy and sentimentality or pathos. He has included Adolf Strauss’ Lied, “Ich weiss bestimmt, ich werd’ dich wiedersehen,” written when the composer was imprisoned at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, and in which Strauss tried to maintain hope in the midst of the deepest despair. Appl is most convincing when he can sing out what the reviewer calls the “lyrical Self,” as in Schubert’s “Seligkeit,” “Nachtstück,” and “Der Wanderer,” Brahms’ “Wiegenlied,” or Wolf’s “Verschwiegene Liebe.” He articulates the texts of both the German Lieder and English songs by Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Peter Warlock with great succinctness, and in Bishop’s “Home, Sweet Home,” avoids any hint of the saccharin. With remarkable skill, he develops a beautiful mixed tone in the upper midrange, as Fischer-Dieskau did earlier and Christian Gerhaher does today. Appl has an excellent partner in pianist James Baillieu.

MAuer
May 16th, 2017, 05:19 PM
The May issue of Das Opernglas (http://www.opernglas.de/) finally arrived. Here’s the summary of recording reviews.

RECOMMENDED

- Ravel: L’heure espagnole
Conductor: Asher Fisch
Cast: Gaëlle Arquez, Julien Behr, Mathias Vidal, Alexandre Duhamel, Lionel Lhote
BR Klassik 900317 (1 CD)
This live recording of an April, 2016, performance in Munich’s Prinzregententheater (Prince Regent’s Theater) of Ravel’s “lyrical comedy” gets a thumbs-up from the reviewer. Asher Fisch leads the Munich Radio Orchestra with the necessary feeling for the score’s delicate details, and there are no weak links among the cast members. Tenor Julien Behr is suitably rapturous as the lover Gonzalve with his “deliciously over-the-top” lyricism, while baritone Lionel Lhote is equally credible as the wealthy banker Don Inigo Gomez, who is likewise smitten with the clockmaker’s cheating wife, Concepcion. Mezzo Gaëlle Arquez gives that lady a pert characterization, with tenor Mathias Vidal vocally expressive as her clueless husband. Alexandre Duhamel brings a powerful baritone to the role of the macho muleteer Ramiro, Concepcion’s favored lover.

- Cesti: L’Orontea
Conductor: Ivor Bolton
Director: Walter Sutcliffe
Cast: Paula Murrihy, Xavier Sabata, Sebastian Geyer, Guy de May, Louise Alder, Simon Bailey, Juanita Lascarro, Kateryna Kasper, Matthias Rexroth, Katharina Magiera
Oehms Classics OC 935 (3 CDs)
This magazine’s reviewer shares the high regard of his counterpart from Opernwelt for this live recording from the Frankfurt Opera. Ivor Bolton draws the appropriate Baroque sound from the Frankfurt Opera and Museum Orchestra while maintaining dramatic tension throughout the course of the three hours (and then some) of Cesti’s work. The big cast is exemplary, with standouts being the warm-toned mezzo Paula Murrihy in the title role, the “sovereign” countertenors Xavier Sabata (Alidoro) and Matthias Rexroth (Corindo), and the glowing soprano Louise Alder (Silandra), as well as Simon Bailey as the tipsy servant Gelone, his singing shifting back and forth between baritone and falsetto. Cesti’s music, with short ariosos embedded in the predominating long recitatives and little in the way of virtuosic ornamentation, primarily supports the textual expression. Together with the complicated plot, it makes this opera require the “highest concentration” from the listener.

- Lully: Persée 1770
Conductor: Hervé Niquet
Cast: Mathias Vidal, Hélène Guilmette, Katherine Watson, Tassis Christoyannis, Jean Teitgen, Chantal Santon-Jeffery, Marie Lenormand, Cyrille Dubois, Marie Kalinine, Thomas Dolié, Zachary Wilder
Alpha ALPHA967 (2 CDs and book)
For the celebration of the 1770 marriage of the Dauphin (later Louis XVI) to the Austrian Princess Marie Antoinette, this opera by Louis XIV’s famed court composer was “updated” (my term) by three well-known tunesmiths of the time. Antoine Dauvergne, Bernard de Bury, and François Rebel were engaged to fit Lully’s writing to contemporary tastes, with Dauvergne taking on the first and fourth acts, de Bury the second, and Rebel the third. The final result was supposed to be as full of pomp and spectacle as possible, with an extravagant staging surrounding the story of Perseus, who accomplishes a succession of heroic deeds, never meets defeat, and always makes the right decision. This recording of the unusual score was made during a staged production in April, 2016, in the Royal Opera House at the palace of Versailles, with Hervé Niquet leading his orchestra Le Concert Spirituel. The reviewer only regrets the decision to release the recording in audio format rather than on DVD/Blu-ray, since it deprives the listener of the visual component; he notes that Lully and his librettist Quinault believed music and text could only achieve their full impact when combined meaningfully and harmoniously with the dance interludes, costumes, and sets. One would have liked to see the archery contest at the end of Act I, the hero’s combat with and beheading of Medusa, or the magnificent appearance of the gods that concludes the opera. In comparison to Persée’s 1682 premiere at the Sun King’s court, the musical and theatrical forces in 1770 were much larger, with 80 musicians, 95 choristers, over 100 dancers, and 327 (!) costumes. For last year’s performance at Versailles, Niquet used much more modest resources, with only 40 instrumentalists and 27 choristers, but still produced beautiful effects. Best among the soloists are tenor Mathias Vidal, who displays superb technique in his portrayal of the title role; Hélène Guilmette, who sings Andromède with a light, glowing soprano; and Marie Kalinine as Méduse, whose third act aria, “J’ai perdu la beauté qui me rendit si vaine,” shows her dramatic mezzo with its wealth of shimmering colors to best effect. The packaging in book form is exemplary, with the complete libretto and English translation paired with full-page color photos of the 2016 staging, reproduction of a color engraving of Marie Antoinette’s arrival at Versailles, and much more.

- Meyerbeer: Grand Opera
With Diana Damrau (soprano)
Selections from Le Prophète, Robert le diable, L’Etoile du Nord, L’Africaine, Il Crociatto in Egitto, Dinorah, Emma di Resburgo, Ein Feldlager in Schlesien, and Les Huguenots, plus Weber’s Alimelek oder die beiden Kalifen
Conductor/orchestra: Emmanuel Villaume, Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra national de Lyon
Erato 9029584901 (1 CD)
In this thoughtfully prepared album, the German soprano traverses almost the entirety of Meyerbeer’s operatic compositions (and includes an aria from the 1814 opera Alimelek oder die beiden Kalifen – Alimelek or the Two Caliphs – by his friend and contemporary, Weber). The bravura selections from Meyerbeer’s masterpieces don’t stand alone, however, but are always placed within their dramatic context and contribute to the characterization of the figures in the subtlest manner. While Damrau displays a wide variety of shadings in her upper midrange and virtuosic fluidity in coloratura, her interpretations are never superficial. Instead, every character, from Marguerite in Les Huguenots, the titular heroine in Dinorah, and Isabelle in Robert le diable, to Ines in L’Africaine, is fully formed. The soprano has ideal partners in Emmanuel Villaume and the orchestra and chorus from the Opéra national de Lyon. The conductor shapes his account of the music in accord with the soloist while giving her opportunity to reveal all the fine delicacy in her singing. The reviewer also observes that Damrau’s intonation has regained its purity after her problematic Lucia di Lammermoor in London. On this CD, she displays none of the cautious approach in her midrange to reduce the risk of the troublesome acuti in Italian bel canto, and there is no longer any fear of inadequate power for high notes. She is willing to take the chance that not every single one of them will be beautiful, as at the end of the bravura aria from Emma di Resburgo. What results is a very good total impression with minor beauty flaws and an impressive demonstration of Damrau’s high level of artistic competence.

- Carl Heinrich Graun: Opera Arias
Soloist: Julia Lezhneva (soprano)
Conductor/orchestra: Mikhail Antonenko, Concerto Köln
Selections from L’Orfeo, Ifigenia in Aulis, Coriolano, Armida, Il Mitridate, Silla, Rodelinda, regina de' Langobardi, Britannico
Decca 4831518 (1 CD)
The Russian soprano’s new disc of arias by Carl Friedrich Graun, music director at the court of Frederick the Great, wins plaudits from this magazine’s reviewer as well. As his counterpart at Opernwelt noted, Graun’s writing attests to the virtuosity of Berlin’s court singers; his arias are packed with coloratura, trills, and interval leaps joined together in long cascades of sound. Lezhneva not only masters their demands, but overpowers them with her incomparable fluidity, necessary reserves of breath, and a broad, evenly produced tonal spectrum. Her voice is perhaps not what is typically heard in this repertoire. Her timbre is by no means light, but capable of subtle shadings; at the same time, her soprano has a bell-like quality, not because of its girlish character, but due to a marked richness of overtones that convey brilliance, along with a vibrato that’s held to a minimum. In her program, she didn’t limit her selections to bravura arias, but included some melancholy pieces such as the lament, “Piangete, o mesti lumi” from Il Mithridate, where she displays a beautiful legato, or “Parmi . . . ah no!” from Silla, with its broad expressive palette that encompasses declamation as well as vocal pyrotechnics. The soprano has partners fully up to her level in conductor Mikhail Antonenko and the orchestra Concerto Köln. Listening to this entire CD at a single sitting can be quite taxing, as these brilliant pieces were not intended to be performed in succession. So much fioritura in a relatively short amount of time can seem dizzying – though the reviewer hastens to assure us that’s not meant to be a criticism of either singer or composer.

- Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde
Conductor/orchestra: Jonathan Nott, Vienna Philharmonic
Soloist: Jonas Kaufmann (tenor)
Sony 88985389832 (1 CD)
Jonas Kaufmann’s one-man show in Mahler’s song cycle for tenor and mezzo or baritone gets emphatic approval from the reviewer. In his exceptional, highly concentrated, and strongly expressive interpretation, Kaufmann’s bronze tenor harmonizes superbly with the delicate playing of the Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Jonathan Nott. There is nothing mannered in the orchestra’s reading, which captures both the fine details in Mahler’s writing and its dark moods. With his dusky, virile timbre, Kaufmann gives voice to a seldom-heard melancholy not only in the three tenor songs, but also in the more introverted pieces normally assigned to a mezzo/contralto or baritone. “A very fine tonal result” is the reviewer’s final assessment.

- Brahms: Die schöne Magelone
With Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Gerold Huber (pianist), Martin Walser (narrator)
Sony 88985413122 (1 CD)
When Brahms set 15 of the poems from Ludwig Tieck’s narrative tale Die wundersame Liebesgeschichte der schönen Magelone und des Grafen Peter aus der Provence (The wondrous love story of the beautiful Magelone and Count Peter of Provence) to music, he was advised by his friend Julius Stockhausen to preface each of the songs with an introductory text from Tieck’s verses. Three years ago, tenor Daniel Behle released a double album of Die schöne Magelone in which he performed the Lieder without introductions on one disc, and with Tieck’s (edited) text read by Hans-Jürgen Schatz before each song on the second disc. Although it has just now been released, baritone Christian Gerhaher and pianist Gerold Huber recorded the same cycle that year in a version that uses introductory texts – but not Tieck’s. Instead, the author Martin Walser penned new text that remains close in mood and content to Tieck’s original, but minus the often difficult-to-understand romantic bombast. Their interpretation grips the listener from the beginning, and thanks to Walser’s suggestive narrative art, allows him/her to experience the adventures of the lovesick Count Peter. Gerhaher does a wonderful job of probing the emotional states of the young man and his beautiful Princess in a subtle manner. Nonetheless, when it comes to conveying Peter’s youthful exuberance, Behle’s account has a clear advantage.

- Hindemith: Das Marienleben (The Life of Mary)
With Rachel Harnisch (soprano) and Jan Philipp Schulze (pianist)
Naxos 8.573423 (1 CD)
While Hindemith favored an Expressionistic, experimental, and even provocative style as a young composer, by the 1920s, he was leaning more toward Neoclassicism. Typical of that stylistic turning point is his setting of Rainer Maria Rilke’s verse cycle Das Marien-Leben, based on the life of the Virgin Mary. But though he was proud of this work, Hindemith was continually revising it, finally achieving a result with which he was completely satisfied in 1948. Soprano Rachel Harnisch and pianist Jan Philipp Schulze chose this fully matured, late version for their recording of the Lied cycle, and present an account of high interpretive quality. Harnisch sings the contemplative, subtly balanced songs in a remarkably simple manner, yet with evident engagement. The cycle remains quite dry, however, and will probably be met with a similar lack of interest in the future. Listeners may find the 1923 original more accessible – and the reviewer suggests it would be worth the effort (presumably to make a recording).

- Puccini: Complete Songs for Soprano and Piano
With Krassimira Stoyanova (soprano) and Maria Prinz (pianist)
Naxos 8573501 (1 CD)
This disc of Puccini songs by the Bulgarian soprano and pianist Maria Prinz will surprise and probably delight many of those who are familiar primarily with the composer’s operas. This complete collection of his canzoni represents all of Puccini’s creative phases, from early years that preceded his great stage works to late in his career, such as “Morire?” from 1917. All of them were casual pieces to which he attached no particular importance, and yet there are certain passages that will remind listeners of his major operas. The clearest example is “Sole e amore,” written in 1888, which he later reused for Mimi in La Bohème. In contrast, the 1919 “Inno a Roma” sounds quite weighty and is rather atypical for him. Stoyanova (who also sings the mezzo part in two duets) interprets these pretty little songs with the requisite engagement and a fine feeling for tonal colors.

- Dvořák: Songs
With Pavol Breslik (tenor), Robert Pechanec (pianist)
Includes Cypresses for Tenor and Piano, songs 1-18; Evening Songs (12), B61 (selection); Gypsy Melodies (7), Op. 55 (B104)
Supraphon SU42152 (1 CD)
Chamber music enthusiasts know and love Dvořák’s Cypresses, a set of 12 pretty little “gems” for string quartet that premiered in 1888, and which also comes in handy for concert encores. But what they may not realize is that this version is actually a transcription for string quartet of Lieder that Dvořák had composed 23 years earlier, when he was unhappily in love with the actress Josefina Čermáková. These original songs have now been recorded by tenor Pavol Breslik and pianist Robert Pechanec, along with selections from Dvořák’s other Lied cycles Evening Song, op. 31, and the much later Gypsy Melodies, op. 55. It’s a pleasure to listen to this disc, especially the spontaneous-sounding but intensely felt Cypresses. Dvořák loved these pieces very much and often quoted from them years later. Breslik sings them with heartwarming simplicity and naturalness; the fifth song, “Es war ein schöner, goldener Traum” (It was a beautiful, golden dream), has an especially beguiling charm.

- Matthias Goerne: “Einsamkeit”
With Markus Hinterhäuser (pianist)
Selected songs by Schumann
Harmonia Mundi HMM902243 (1 CD)
Robert Schumann didn’t hold art songs in especially high regard prior to his 1840 marriage to Clara Wieck, but after tying the knot, engaged in a near-frenzy of creative activity during which he wrote several of his major Lied cycles, among them the wonderful Eichendorff settings. For this album, baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Markus Hinterhäuser had the interesting idea of recording songs from Schumann’s “romantic spring” of his early married years with pieces written on the brink of his nervous disorder. These latter pieces, composed a good 10 years later, are not nearly as well known as the earlier cycles, but their status is probably enhanced by the juxtaposition with the more familiar works. Especially gripping and deeply shocking is the 1850 setting of Goethe’s Nachtlied that Goerne plumbs in all its tragic depth. This wisely chosen program of largely undramatic material suits Goerne’s often throaty-sounding baritone with its tendency toward tremolo, and makes this a Schumann disc of a very special sort.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Martinů: The Greek Passion
Conductor: Dirk Kaftan
Cast: Rolf Romei, Dshamilja Kaiser, Manuel von Senden, Martin Fournier, Wilfried Zelinka, Ivan Orešcanin, Dietmar Hirzberger, Falk Witzurke, Tino Sekay, Taylan Reinhard, Dariusz Perczak, Tatjana Miyus, Richard Friedemann Jähnig, Sanggyoul Lee, Christian Scherler, Markus Butter, Sofía Mara, Yuan Zhang, Konstantin Sfiris, David McShane
Oehms Classics OC967 (2 CDs)
Set during the Greek-Turkish conflict that followed the First World War, Martinů’s opera with its story of Greek villagers preparing their annual Passion Play who are suddenly confronted by the arrival of a group of refugees has definite parallels to present day events. While the refugees receive little sympathy among the villagers or their priest Grigoris, those performing in the play show far more empathy – especially Manolios, who is portraying Christ. Unlike Nikos Kazantzakis, whose novel provided the basis for Martinů’s own English language libretto, the composer is less concerned with the plot’s political implications and more interested in the general moral questions it raises. Since the refugees share the villagers’ nationality and religion, the latter’s hostility is rooted in self-interest rather than cultural differences. Still, it has an oppressive effect, and Martinů has paired it with music full of dramatic tension. There are chants reminiscent of the Greek Orthodox liturgy that also have a fervor which calls to mind 19th century Russian operas, some folkloric elements, and declaimed passages. The orchestration either intensifies the drama or effectively frames it. In this live performance from the Graz Opera, conductor Dirk Kaftan maintains firm rhythmic control of his forces while making the most of the partitur’s dynamic range, producing a rounded, warm, transparent sound. The Graz Chorus displays exemplary homogeneity, and the strong contributions from musicians and choristers make one wish the soloists were more than simply adequate. There are some noteworthy portrayals, however, including Dshamilja Kaiser as Katerina, the woman in love with Manolios. Her lean mezzo has a wealth of attractive overtones, though many listeners may find her vibrato too prominent. Rolf Romei lends an appealing tenor to Manolios, but some occasional strain is perceptible. In the role of the refugees’ priest Fotis, Markus Butter displays a dark baritone and an intensity in his phrasing that helps to conceal his rather uneven vocal production. Wilfred Zelinka is a disappointing Grigoris, “roaring” his music without giving his character any sort of interpretive stature.

- Wagner: Das Rheingold
Conductor: Sir Simon Rattle
Cast: Michael Volle, Tomasz Konieczny, Burkhard Ulrich, Elisabeth Kulman, Herwig Pecoraro, Peter Rose, Eric Halfvarson, Annette Dasch, Janina Baechle, Christian van Horn, Benjamin Bruns, Mirella Hagen, Stefanie Irányi, Eva Vogel
BR Klassik 900133 (2 CDs)
This set, a melding of live recordings from two 2015 concert performances of Wagner’s opera in Munich’s Herkulessaal, is a disappointment, with only three singers in smaller roles giving fully satisfying portrayals of their characters. In spite of all the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra’s considerable merits, Sir Simon Rattle’s interpretation is not really convincing. His approach seems to be along the lines of Pierre Boulez’s or Kirill Petrenko’s – fleet, eloquent, and fluid, but without really exploring the score’s tremendous potential for dramatic tension through agogic and dynamic accents. Much here sounds uninspired, and the fundamental quality of this top-notch orchestra remains unused. Among the soloists, the best are Herwig Pecoraro as a superb Mime who doesn’t engage in any exaggerated treatment of the text, but finds exactly the right balance between narrative clarity and the musical line; Benjamin Bruns (Froh), who deploys his very beautiful tenor with considerable taste; and Annette Dasch, who shows welcome restraint in dealing with Freia’s hysterics. One wishes Michael Volle (Wotan) had borrowed a page from Pecoraro’s book and sung somewhat more calmly on the breath and without overemphasis on the text. Loge takes Burkhard Ulrich to the limits of his tenor’s range, and he has a hard time concealing his vocal weaknesses and shaping his music with the requisite lightness. Tomasz Konieczny has the right timbre for Alberich, yet for all his extensive experience in Wagner’s operas, his diction is nowhere near acceptable. On the other hand, there is exemplary precision in his vocal production. Peter Rose’s Fasolt is more distinguished by reliable declamation than a bel canto-esque shaping of his characterization, while Eric Halfvarson sings Fafner with rather too much vibrato. Elisabeth Kulman’s Fricka is marred by vocal discolorations that negatively affect her diction; Christian van Horn (Donner) displays an effortful upper register; and Janina Baechle’s Erda manifests some intonation problems in the passaggio. The trio of Rhine Maidens -- Mirella Hagen, Stefanie Irányi, and Eva Vogel – produces sound lacking in both uniformity and attractiveness.

- Liesbeth Devos and Peter Gijsbertsen: “Liebesfrühling” (Springtime of Love)
With Jozef de Beenhouwer (pianist)
Lieder by Robert and Clara Schumann
Phaedra Classics 292036 (1 CD)
Belgian soprano Liesbeth Devos and Dutch tenor Peter Gijsbertsen have developed an “exquisite” program of songs composed by the Schumanns. Though Clara downplayed her compositional talent (and like a proper Victorian lady, claimed that women – herself included – didn’t have such talent at all), in 1841, she showed her husband some of the songs she set to verses from Friedrich Rückert’s collection of poems. He promptly added some Lieder of his own, and their joint effort became the cycle Liebesfrühling, op. 37. While only three of the 12 pieces clearly come from Clara’s pen, her considerable talent is obvious. Several others were probably written together with Robert and “breathe” the spirit of both spouses. It’s a pleasure to hear this work in its entirety (three numbers are duets), along with other less well-known compositions such as Robert’s Vier Duette (op. 34) and Tragödie (op. 64) along with Clara’s Sechs Lieder (op. 13) – though the reviewer observes that their quality doesn’t approach that of Robert’s great Lied cycles. Unfortunately, the two soloists aren’t top-drawer, either. Devos’ light soprano has little substance and is without luster in lyrical passages; Gijsbertsen also isn’t fully convincing, with a somewhat dull-sounding tenor lacking any real charisma that restricts his interpretive possibilities.

SAVE YOUR MONEY

- Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin
With Bo Skovhus (baritone), Stefan Vladar (pianist)
Capriccio C5290 (1 CD)
This is the first release in a series of recordings of Schubert’s three major Lied cycles by baritone Bo Skovhus and pianist Stefan Vladar, made in Raiding’s Liszthalle. (Winterreise and Schwanengesang will follow later this year.) This is the second recording of Die schöne Müllerin by Skovhus, who says he’s grateful for the chance to commit this work to disc again. He notes that when one is younger, one reflects much less on the cycle’s content. Now that he’s older, he understands the music more, and says that, particularly for this cycle, it’s important to have another perspective. But precisely there is the problem with this new recording. Skovhus has probably thought too much about every single syllable and measure, making his interpretation an overly intellectual one. In none of these songs does he capture its romantic feeling, and it’s as though he’s standing outside events, coolly observing the young mill worker’s suffering.

- Natalie Dessay: Schubert
With Philippe Cassard (pianist)
Selected songs by Schubert, plus Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s “Auf dem Wasser zu singen”
Sony 88985419882 (1 CD)
In a note included with this CD’s accompanying booklet, the French soprano recalls that, as a young girl, she was “frustrated” by a concert of Schubert Lieder, but sensed that someday she would have to sing his songs. Sadly, her very small and lean voice is simply not up to the demands of such a challenging program, evident after just a few measures of “Liebesbotschaft,” the first song from Schwanengesang. One clearly hears the trouble she has with this material. Her interpretations are so lacking in expression, color, and textual understanding that they verge on caricature. That’s especially noticeable in “Erlkönig,” though it’s a joy to hear the exceptional excitement with which Philippe Cassard infuses the piano accompaniment.

- Renée Fleming: “Distant Light”
Conductor/orchestra: Sakari Oramo, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Includes Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, op. 24; three songs by Björk (arranged by Hans Ek); Anders Hillborg’s The Strand Settings (world premiere recording)
Decca 4830415 (1 CD)
The rather unusual program on this album is tailored to Renée Fleming’s voice, with all of these pieces full of melodic sound and mawkish melancholy. Her soprano displays its familiar creaminess, accompanied by Sakari Oramo and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Fleming asserts that she finds “depth” in this material, but many others will probably not perceive such profundity.

COLLECTIONS

- Matthias Goerne: Schubert Lieder
With Christoph Eschenbach, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Eric Schneider, Ingo Metzmacher, and Helmut Deutsch (pianists)
Includes Schwanengesang, Die schöne Müllerin, and Winterreise; selected Schubert Lieder
Harmonia Mundi HMX 2908750/61 (12 CDs)
This is a compilation of the baritone’s Schubert recordings made between 2008 and 2014. Sorted chronologically in sleeves, the discs reflect Goerne’s traversal of the composer’s entire Lied canon. He is accompanied by Christoph Eschenbach in the three major cycles (Die schöne Müllerin, Schwanengesang, and Winterreise), and has a variety of keyboard partners on the other CDs. Especially appealing and exciting are the introductory comments his accompanists have contributed to the recordings they made with him, offering illuminating information about the poetic and expressive powers of the music and text. Another very useful addition is an alphabetical index of Lieder listing the cycles in which they are contained, the poets represented, and the CD and track on which the song can be found. The booklet is printed in three languages.

- “Leonard Bernstein: The Composer”
Includes complete performances of West Side Story, Wonderful Town, On the Town, Candide, Peter Pan, Trouble in Tahiti, Dybbuk (ballet), “Jeremiah” Symphony, Mass, Chichester Psalms; art songs
Conductors: Leonard Bernstein, Leonard Slatkin, Johnny Green, John Mauceri, Lehman Engel, et. al.
With Marilyn Horne, Patricia Spence, Nancy Williams, Rosalind Russell, Barbara Cook, Jennie Tourel, Frederica von Stade, Carol Lawrence, Jean Arthur, Marnie Nixon, Maureen Brennan, Boris Karloff, Jim Bryant, Julian Patrick, Robert Rounseville, Max Adrian, Alan Titus, Mark Baker, John Ostendorf, David Johnson, et. al.
Sony 88985345312 (25 CDs)
This is the second of Sony’s box sets devoted to Leonard Bernstein, the previous release being a collection of 80 (!) CDs containing his concert and symphonic recordings. While that set focused on Bernstein the conductor, this one highlights his career as a composer. The series “Bernstein Conducts Bernstein” with the New York Philharmonic originally issued on the old Columbia label appears here in newly remastered form and includes all three of his symphonies, the Chichester Psalms, Mass, symphonic dances from his musicals, and the ballet Dybbuk. Naturally, all of his stage works are here, with two versions of Candide and West Side Story – in the case of the latter, one with the original Broadway cast and the other with the soundtrack from the 1960 film. There are studio or live recordings of On the Town (with Bernstein on the podium, a rarity with his Broadway shows), the one-act opera Trouble in Tahiti, and Wonderful Town, a story of two sisters seeking fame and fortune in the Big Apple. The collection is completed with recordings of his art songs, chamber music, concert pieces, and jazz works. The CD cases come with reproductions of the art that adorned the original LP covers, while the accompanying booklet provides background information as well as a listing of all CDs with covers, tracks, and performers.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
May 18th, 2017, 10:33 AM
It's humbling to see how I only know fewer than a handful of the dozens of singers listed above - the usual suspects Damrau, Kaufmann, etc. Is a new generation of opera singers already replacing very fast the ones we are familiar with? :ohmy:

MAuer
May 18th, 2017, 11:04 AM
A few of the operas are live recordings from smaller houses -- Graz, Frankfurt, Versailles -- that usually don't have the big-name soloists among their cast members. That could be why some of the names are unfamiliar. A couple of the recordings are also on small labels -- Alpha and Phaedra -- that may cater to specialized or niche audiences, which might be another explanation.

Clayton
May 18th, 2017, 03:54 PM
- Cesti: L’Orontea
Conductor: Ivor Bolton
Director: Walter Sutcliffe
Cast: Paula Murrihy, Xavier Sabata, Sebastian Geyer, Guy de May, Louise Alder, Simon Bailey, Juanita Lascarro, Kateryna Kasper, Matthias Rexroth, Katharina Magiera
Oehms Classics OC 935 (3 CDs)


Oh nice, another Orontea recording and Guy de Mey singing the same part 35 years later! I might have to get this one too



- Lully: Persée 1770
Conductor: Hervé Niquet
Cast: Mathias Vidal, Hélène Guilmette, Katherine Watson, Tassis Christoyannis, Jean Teitgen, Chantal Santon-Jeffery, Marie Lenormand, Cyrille Dubois, Marie Kalinine, Thomas Dolié, Zachary Wilder
Alpha ALPHA967 (2 CDs and book)


no might about this one; straight in to the shopping basket!

Clayton
May 18th, 2017, 03:57 PM
Huh! I justify buying the great big Gardiner Bach cantata box set by thinking I hadn't bought any CDs for a few months. Then a few minutes back on this forum and my shopping basket is filling up again!

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
May 18th, 2017, 10:42 PM
A few of the operas are live recordings from smaller houses -- Graz, Frankfurt, Versailles -- that usually don't have the big-name soloists among their cast members. That could be why some of the names are unfamiliar. A couple of the recordings are also on small labels -- Alpha and Phaedra -- that may cater to specialized or niche audiences, which might be another explanation.
Oh, OK. Feeling better now... :happydance.2:

MAuer
May 29th, 2017, 05:15 PM
Summary of reviews from the June, 2017, issue of Opernwelt (http://www.opernwelt.de/):

RECOMMENDED

- Bellini: Adelson e Salvini
Conductor: Daniele Rustioni
Cast: Simone Alberghini, Daniela Barcellona, Enea Scala, Maurizio Murano, Rodion Pogossov, David Soar, Leah-Marian Jones
Opera Rara ORC 56 (2 CDs)
This new recording of Bellini’s first opera has been selected as the June issue’s CD of the Month. With a libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola based on French sources (a 1772 novel and the 1803 play adapted from it), Bellini wrote Adelson e Salvini as his final project as a student at Naples’ San Sebastiano Conservatory. Events take part in 17th century Ireland and involve an aristocrat, Lord Adelson; his fiancée Nelly; his friend Salvini, a Roman painter; and Fanny, a young woman who is a pupil of Salvini. Salvini secretly loves Nelly, and is secretly loved by Fanny. Nelly also happens to be the niece of Colonel Struley, who had been outlawed a number of years earlier by Lord Adelson, and Struley is planning to even the score with the nobleman by kidnapping her. The Colonel has not only found out about Salvini’s secret passion, but has discovered – thanks to an intercepted letter – that Adelson’s parents want him to wed a high-ranking woman from London instead of Nelly. There is an assortment of additional complications, misunderstandings, and intrigues before Salvini finally recognizes that he belongs with Fanny, and Lord Adelson marries Nelly. The villainous Colonel Struley, it seems, escapes unscathed from all the trouble he’s caused, arson included. Bellini described his work as an opera semi-seria, and while it owes much to Rossini (especially the buffo patter sections), it still has its own individual sound; years later, the composer recycled Nelly’s entrance aria as Giulietta’s “O quante volte” in I Capuleti e i Montecchi. In its original version, the aria followed the rare form of the Sapphic ode in its unusual rhythms, and the revision, with its even verses and “luxurious” instrumentation, actually lost some of the magic of the Urfassung. Heard on the Opera Rara recording is also a final aria for Salvini with solo cor anglais that is omitted on both the 1985 Stockholm and 1992 Catania recordings of this work; the piece came to light during research for the score’s new critical edition, and stemmed from a revision Bellini made in anticipation of an 1828 performance in Naples which ended up never taking place. (The revised arias for that performance are contained on this set in an appendix.) Despite its limitations, Adelson e Salvini does have a special charm, with a simple use of transverse flute and bassoon, and the brass limited to horns. In this performance, mezzo Daniela Barcellona brings masterful experience and a dark low register to her portrayal of Nelly, while bass Maurizio Murano contributes a real star turn as Salvini’s servant Bonifacio, singing much of the part in Neapolitan dialect. Tenor Enea Scala is a (very) light-voiced Salvini, and one wishes he and some of the other soloists would be a little more adventurous in their da capo ornamentations. However, that hardly diminishes the overall quality of the recording, particularly since conductor Daniele Rustioni pays very close attention to the chamber music-like luminescence of Bellini’s partitur.

- Vivaldi: Bajazet
Conductor: Erin Helyard
Cast: Christopher Lowrey, Hadleigh Adams, Emily Edmonds, Russell Harcourt, Helen Sherman, Sarah Macliver
Pinchgut Opera 0797776192212 (3 CDs)
Vivaldi’s version of the story of the Ottoman Sultan Bajazet (Beyazid), captured after the 1402 battle of Ankara by the Tatar Prince Tamerlano (Timur Lenk), is actually a pasticchio in which he composed new music for Bajazet, Asteria, and Idaspe, while either recycling numbers from his own operas (especially Farnace) or borrowing from the works of Johann Adolf Hasse, Geminiano Giacomelli, and Riccardo Broschi (Farinelli’s brother) for the characters of Tamerlano, Irene, and Andromaco. There is already an earlier recording of this work from 2010, with Fabio Biondi on the podium and Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, David Daniels, Vivica Genaux, and Elīna Garanča among the soloists. However, this live performance from Sydney’s Pinchgut Opera is very nearly its equal in quality. There is an excellent Tamerlano from countertenor Christopher Lowrey with “furious” coloratura and an “intense” characterization. Baritone Hadleigh Adams acquits himself respectably in the title role, and all of the other cast members offer convincing portrayals. Erin Helyard leads an “exquisite” interpretation of the score by the Orchestra of the Antipodes, pairing explosive emotional outbursts with sensitive nuances.

- Grétry: L’Amant Jaloux
Conductor: Erin Helyard
Cast: Ed Lyons, Celeste Lazarenko, Andrew Goodwin, Alexandra Oomens, Jessica Aszodi, David Greco
Pinchgut Opera 0797776481668 (2 CDs)
Grétry’s 1778 opera about jealous lovers tells the story of the wealthy Cadiz merchant Lopez, whose business will only continue flourishing if he obtains the shares of his recently deceased son-in-law. That in turn is dependent upon going into partnership with his daughter Léonore, which will only work if she remains a widow. To ensure this, he instructs the housekeeper not to admit the penniless nobleman Don Alonzo, who has been courting the beautiful, young Léonore, to their residence. The widow’s best friend, Isabelle, just happens to be Don Alonzo’s sister, and that lady and the officer Florival have taken a fancy to each other, though he mistakenly believes her to be named Léonore. Various romantic assignations, complete with disguises, follow, with Alonzo revealed as a jealous man as touchy with respect to his sister’s virtue as he is in regard to his sweetheart’s fidelity. In the end, he must accept Isabelle’s love for Florival, while the prospect of an inheritance from his well-heeled uncle means he can wed Léonore without a dowry. (Which rather leaves Lopez up a creek, but no one seems to care.) Grétry’s appealing music combines French elegance with Italianate beauty, and it receives a fine account from the forces of the Pinchgut Opera in this live recording. The soloists bring fresh vocal shadings and idiomatic style to their portrayals, with soprano Celeste Lazarenko’s Léonore the standout with her fluent coloratura (even if high notes are often “ripped” from the musical line). Erin Helyard once again leads an engaged interpretation by the Orchestra of the Antipodes on a CD set that also includes two entre’actes and the Flute Concerto in C-Major by Grétry along with the Andante from Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s Mandolin Concerto.

- Mayr: Telemaco
Conductor: Franz Hauk
Cast: Siri Karoline Thornhill, Andrea Lauren Brown, Jaewon Yun, Markus Schäfer, Katharina Ruckgaber, Niklas Mallmann
Naxos 8.660388 (2 CDs)
This is another in a series of complete recordings of Mayr’s operas by conductor and musicologist Franz Hauk, supported by the Ingolstadt Mayr Society. The quality of some of the preceding efforts was arguable (not sure if the reference is to the performance or the material), but Telemaco, with its brief numbers and “French” ballet interludes, is very satisfying. The music is described by the reviewer as being rather “off the rack” instead of distinguished by any particular originality or inventiveness, but Mayr was still at the beginning of his career when this work had its world premiere in 1797 at La Fenice. Under Hauk’s baton, the HIP ensemble Concerto de Bassus offers a reading of delicacy and agogic eloquence. The soloists display appealing, lyrical voices, especially Siri Karoline Thornhill and Andrea Lauren Brown as Telemaco and Calipso, respectively, even if Mayr’s assignment of roles to four sopranos, one tenor, and one bass can sometimes make things sound a little monotonous. In this regard, much comes across as too sweet and light. As Mentone, who succeeds in finally tearing the hero away from Calipso, tenor Markus Schäfer demonstrates that even early Mayr can stand some vehemence.

- Dvořák: The Spectre’s Bride
Conductor: Cornelius Meister
Soloists: Simona Ŝaturová, Pavol Breslik, Adam Plachetka
Capriccio C 5316 (1 CD)
Not an opera, but a dramatic cantata, The Spectre’s Bride is based on Karl Jaromír Erben’s ballad about an innocent young woman, unhappy because of her lover’s long absence, who is very nearly lured into temptation and the dead lover’s grave by his ghost. Persuaded by him to discard cross, rosary, and prayer book, she is finally saved when she begs the Virgin Mary for forgiveness and the local villagers lead her into the safety of the nearby church. Dvořák’s setting stays close to the story, with lucid, impassioned, stirring music. It practically has the makings of a scene from an opera, as though Gounod had drawn one of his stories of unhappy love from a Moravian folk tale. Cornelius Meister and the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting) Symphony Orchestra of Vienna find exactly the right balance between romantic rapture and distinguished style in their account of Dvořák’s score, with both the orchestra and the members of the Wiener Singakademie (chorus master Heinz Ferlesch) sounding light, transparent, and eloquent. The soloists are equally impressive. Adam Plachetka makes a sympathetic narrator, while Pavol Breslik brings a lustrous tenor and seductive charm to the spectral lover. Simona Ŝaturová’s extremely fragile, trembling, bell-like soprano corresponds in all of its nuances to the girl’s character. The high point of this fine recording is the duet “Pĕkná noc, jasná” (which the reviewer translates as “Beautiful night, so clear”), when the dead man seems to hold the girl in his power before she is freed by a Higher Will. Only a torn wedding gown remains on the graves that call to her in vain.

- Johan Botha: Beethoven – Wagner – Strauss
Conductors: Seiji Ozawa, Franz Welser-Möst, Simone Young, Donald Runnicles, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Semyon Bychkov, Christian Thielemann
Vienna State Opera Orchestra
Excerpts from Fidelio, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Parsifal, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Daphne, and Ariadne auf Naxos
Orfeo C 906 171 B (1 CD)
As a tribute to tenor Johan Botha, who died from cancer last September, the Orfeo label has issued this disc of previously unreleased excerpts from Vienna State Opera performances between 1997 and 2014 in which Botha appeared. While what’s heard here isn’t flawless – this is still “raw material” (my term) – the recording gets a thumbs-up from the reviewer. Among the most impressive selections is the tenor’s rendition of Tannhäuser’s Rome Narration, which he actually sings instead of resorting to the near-Sprechgesang many other interpreters have fallen back on late in this extremely taxing role. He adopts a lyrical approach, with a fresh voice that immediately responds to his commands. The Italian meadows blossom fragrantly; the encounter with the Pope never drifts into caricature, but becomes the vocal depiction of a duel. The album begins with the 1997 Lohengrin under Simone Young and concludes with the 2014 Ariadne auf Naxos conducted by Christian Thielemann. In the Bridal Chamber scene from the former, Botha gives a lesson in relaxed, flowing tone, making Cheryl Studer’s Elsa suffer considerably by comparison. The South African Heldentenor had a self-awareness in the best sense, and never tried to wrest anything from his voice – which actually never needed to have anything wrested from it. Where others could only cope with or overcome difficulties, he was free to focus on characterization. Illustrative of this is “Amme! Wachst du?” from Die Frau ohne Schatten, which has a phrasing structure that leaves many tenors experiencing shortness of breath, but which Botha shapes as big, arching, triumphant rapture. Yet for all his technical skill and balance, he was never concerned with purely beautiful singing. In Parsifal’s “Amfortas! Die Wunde,” he emits an almost piercing outcry, followed by moments of (admittedly controlled) attack. That this disc contains “snapshots” rather than a refined, corrected recording is evinced by Botha’s account of Florestan’s aria, which he undoubtedly sang in a more balanced, effortless manner than is heard in this 2004 performance of Fidelio led by Seiji Ozawa. Many of this disc’s shortcomings must also be attributed to other soloists, such as the aforementioned Ms. Studer. There is a very forced Leukippos from Michael Schade in Daphne, and Christian Gerhaher sings Wolfram with a hard, powerful baritone. The tenor’s best onstage colleague is James Rutherford as an authentic Hans Sachs with his fine touch of humor.

- Schubert: Die Winterreise; Schwanengesang
Günther Groissböck (bass), Gerold Huber (pianist)
Decca 4814990 (2 CDs)
Already the first silvery, “overcast” notes of Die Winterreise show what a talented Lied interpreter pianist Gerold Huber is, especially in Schubert. But instead of his usual partner, baritone Christian Gerhaher, he’s joined on this double album of two of the composer’s best-known song cycles by bass Günther Groissböck. Initially, the Austrian singer’s agreeably rounded, dark voice sounds somewhat slow and ponderous, as though a gauze veil lies over it, and agogic accents seem too drawn-out, as in “Auf dem Flusse.” But with each succeeding song, Groissböck frees himself from this solemnity and his captivating interpretive approach becomes clear. His wanderer – like Atlas, but not actually becoming Atlas – carries the weight of the world with him, so that even in “Frühlingstraum” (Dream of Spring), there is nothing naïve in his dreaming. Groissböck and Huber convey the hopelessness felt by this individual without ever becoming sentimentally lachrymose. The line, “Ich stand in dunklen Träume” (I was in the midst of dark dreams) could serve as a heading for their interpretation. No light, unless cast by a will’-o-the-wisp, will penetrate this dream; no one can escape the shudder that accompanies what the reviewer describes as “a journey to the end of the night.” The path continues downward in Schwanengesang and the song “Doppelgänger,” where the wanderer long ago lost is able to overcome the horror when the moon shows him his own shape. That, says the reviewer, is “devastating” – “devastatingly good.”

- Matthias Goerne: “Einsamkeit”
With Markus Hinterhäuser (pianist)
Selected songs by Schumann
Harmonia Mundi HMM902243 (1 CD)
This is a fine recording of Schumann Lieder by baritone Matthias Goerne and pianist Markus Hinterhäuser. The composer’s settings of Lenau’s “Rose” and Heine’s “Lotusblume” carry a sweet, delicate fragrance here, and the title song, “Einsamkeit” (Solitude), is “painfully beautiful.” The harmonic colors of the piano accompaniment are captivating, and Goerne’s fine nuances are equally winning. Occasionally, though, one gets the impression that the urgency always perceptible in the chosen Lieder is not attained by the performers’ intensity, but more through an artificial heightening of dynamics – in “Es stürmet ein Abendhimmel,” for example. But this is the only objection to an otherwise consistent interpretation that convincingly evokes the Romantic individual in his introspection and despairing self-imprisonment.

- Peter Schöne and Moritz Eggert: “Der Klang des Denkers”
Settings of Friedrich Nietzsche’s poems by Medtner, Krug, Schoenberg, Hindemith, Pepping, Rihm, Ruzicka, Trunk, and Weigl
Bremen Radiohall Records B06XJ841GH (1 CD)
On this disc, baritone Peter Schöne and composer/pianist Moritz Eggert perform over a century’s worth of art songs set to verses by Nietzsche. Schöne’s treatment of the text sounds very natural, with diction of exemplary clarity; his voice has a noticeably virile timbre and glows brightly in the upper register. In the more Romantic settings, such as those by Nikolai Medtner, Gustav Krug, Karl Weigl, or Schoenberg, his reading could often benefit from more atmosphere and a broader spectrum of tonal colors. At the keyboard, Eggert creates great musical arcs that reveal a particular composer’s structural approach. In general, there is much on this disc to capture one’s interest. From Medtner’s turbulent inner turmoil, Schöne and Eggert guide the listener into a psychological internalization that culminates in the two Lied cycles by Wolfgang Rihm and Peter Ruzicka. In his 2001 Sechs Gedichten von Friedrich Nietzsche (Six Poems by Friedrich Nietzsche), Rihm’s “cautiously groping” music reaches the edge of fragility in a manner that makes his cycle almost a second Winterreise. Finally, Ruzicka’s Acht Gesänge nach Fragmenten von Nietzsche (Eight songs from fragments by Nietzsche) has a rough, harsh sonority with ice, wasteland, caves, and night serving as dominant metaphors of loneliness and solitude. It’s not the wild, mad Nietzsche of the grand gesture encountered here, but rather a melancholy man who is lost to the world.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel
Conductor: Christian Thielemann
Director: Adrian Noble
Cast: Daniela Sindram, Ileana Tonca, Adrian Eröd, Janina Baechle, Michaela Schuster, Annika Gerhards
EuroArts/Warner Classics 2072988 (1 DVD)
According to the reviewer, there is a saying among conductors that Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel is the most beautiful Wagner opera. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the Vienna State Opera entrusted this work to Christian Thielemann, popular with Viennese audiences and usually with critics as well. His reading in this performance has less of Siegfried’s Forest Murmurs about it and more of the heroic force of Götterdämmerung. That this music can – and should – be played with charm and a light springiness is scarcely to be detected here. The opulent “Wagnerizing” of the orchestra is in marked contrast to director Adrian Noble’s and set/costume designer Anthony Ward’s naïve staging, which treats the fairy tale as part of a Victorian Christmas tableau, presents a safe, ideal children’s world, and avoids any attempt to explore the story’s darker, more unsettling undertones. (Some viewers may consider this a plus rather than a minus.) In itself, their approach is consistent, but inclines to visual craftwork (especially in the second act), whereas the singers’ acting tends to be cute and fussy. Both the comedic and dramatic possibilities of the third act remain untapped, especially since Michaela Schuster’s Witch is more absurd than threatening. The cast in this premiere was drawn from the Staatsoper’s ensemble and didn’t include any big-name guest stars. Reviews in the media of the actual performance indicated that the singers didn’t have an easy time trying to assert themselves against the massive sound from the orchestra, but on the DVD, there is a proper balance between pit and stage. The veteran Daniela Sindram (Hänsel) and newcomer – and talented actress – Ileana Tonca (Gretel) are clearly engaged with the production team’s viewpoint, but Adrian Eröd’s vocally and visually trim broom maker comes across like a nice village school teacher instead of an alcoholic, impoverished working man. Mezzo Janina Baechle lends Gertrud a Junoesque stature, but is vocally uncomfortable in a soprano role that’s often assigned to an aging Hochdramatische.

- Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin
With Bo Skovhus (baritone), Stefan Vladar (pianist)
Capriccio C5290 (1 CD)
Opernwelt’s reviewer doesn’t find Bo Skovhus’ interpretation of Die schöne Müllerin as off-putting as his counterpart at Das Opernglas did, but he’s not especially enthusiastic about it, either. The baritone needs some time before he finds some heartfelt emotion in his reading; initially – probably as a result of accompanist Stefan Vladar’s rapid tempos – everything sounds like a cheerful country excursion with beer and pretzels (or whatever one’s choice of snack and beverage may be). The doubt that overcomes the young mill worker only surfaces briefly. Not until the song “Der Neugierige” does one perceive the narrator’s disgruntled mood and the contours of Schubert’s emotional landscape. Skovhus and Vladar never attain the sort of depth one hears in the Schubert recording by Groissböck and Huber, with shadows only hinted at.

SAVE YOUR MONEY

- Natalie Dessay: Schubert
With Philippe Cassard (pianist)
Selected songs by Schubert, plus Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s “Auf dem Wasser zu singen”
Sony 88985419882 (1 CD)
Unless you’re a diehard fan of the soprano, definitely give this one a miss. Natalie Dessay is undoubtedly a wonderful singer, but not a wonderful Schubert interpreter. Her vibrato is decidedly too thick, her voice so thin that one really starts to worry about its stability, particularly in the upper register. Her textual clarity is problematic. Unlike Mozart, in Schubert’s Lieder the music must serve the poetry, and there’s next to nothing poetic in what one hears on this disc. The only bright spot is Liszt’s piano arrangement of the song “Auf dem Wasser zu singen,” and that’s due to the luminosity of Philippe Cassard’s playing.

HISTORICAL RECORDINGS

- Virginia Zeani: The Decca Recitals
Conductors/orchestras: Gianandrea Gavazzeni, Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino; Franco Patane, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Arias by Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi, and Puccini
Decca Eloquence 480 0172 (2 CDs)
Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge once lauded Virginia Zeani as possessing “a bel canto soprano so opulent, so lush, and so velvety” that was paired with great technique, impressive extension, and great emotion. So perhaps it’s ironic that the Romanian soprano, who recorded two recitals for Decca and was considered a rising star in the 1950s, received no further engagements from the label in the following decade – probably displaced on Decca’s roster by Dame Joan herself. Zeani began her three-decade career specializing in the bel canto roles of Donizetti, Bellini, and Rossini, along with Verdi’s Gilda and Violetta, before gradually developing into a lirico spinto soprano in the 1960s with a repertoire centered on Puccini and the verismo composers, but also including Wagner’s Elsa and Senta. As with Magda Olivero and Leyla Gencer, her posthumous fame was based on countless live “pirate” recordings that in the meantime have become officially available. In the first recital on this two-disc set, dating from 1956, she is heard as a lyric coloratura, combining delicate ornamentation with considerable vocal and dramatic expansiveness, and is equally convincing as Elvira (I Puritani), Lucia, and Violetta. The 1958 recital of Puccini arias is less successful and finds her inclined to veristic pressure and “wailing,” neither of which she had any need of since her bel canto technique was sufficient to create the illusion of a lirico spinto. The orchestral accompaniment in both recitals never goes beyond the routine, which is rather disappointing with a conductor like Gianandrea Gavazzeni on the podium.

- Hilde Gueden: “My Secret Heart”
Various orchestras; conductors are Stanley Black, Kurt Adler, György Fischer, and Richard Rossmayer
Songs by Ivor Novello and Noël Coward; traditional Viennese songs
Decca Eloquence 482 0115 (2 CDs)
The Austrian soprano made her name as an interpreter of roles by Mozart and Richard Strauss as well as in the classic Viennese operettas. This set, however, offers something quite different. A compilation of four LPs released by Decca between 1952 and 1967, it contains songs by the multi-talents Ivor Novello and Noël Coward, whose stage works never attained the popularity on the Continent that they enjoyed in Great Britain (and to some extent, the U.S.). These pieces successfully combine elements of classical operetta and musicals, and it’s astonishing to hear how idiomatic – linguistically, musically, and stylistically – Gueden’s rendition is. She also displays a sensuous midrange that seldom had many demands placed upon it in her usual repertoire.

- “The Voice of Cesare Siepi”
Conductors: Alberto Erede, Gianandrea Gavazzeni, Erich Kleiber, Josef Krips, Tullio Serafin
Orchestras: Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Vienna Philharmonic
Arias by Mozart, Verdi, Meyerbeer, Halévy, Gomes, Ponchielli, and Boito
Decca Eloquence 482 0113 (1 CD)
One of the greatest Italian basses of the postwar era, Cesare Siepi recorded several complete operas and a number of recitals for Decca early in his career. This release on the Eloquence label contains a representative sampling of his Decca recordings issued between 1954 and 1957. Naturally, he is heard as Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Figaro under Krips and Erich Kleiber, respectively, as well as Boito’s Mefistofele. In the Verdi arias, as in Mozart’s, he displays the incomparable legato of a basso cantante, while in Meyerbeer and Halévy, he produces the impressive tones of a basso profondo. It’s regrettable that when his voice had fully matured, he never had the opportunity to make studio recordings of his two parade roles, Philip II in Don Carlo and Fiesco in Simon Boccanegra – though several recordings of his live performances are available.

- “Great Bass Arias”
With Arnold van Mill and Otto Edelmann
Conductors/orchestra: Robert Wagner, Rudolf Morat; Vienna Philharmonic
Arias by Nicolai, Lortzing, Beethoven, Weber, Wagner, Verdi, and Cornelius
Decca Eloquence 482 0200 (1 CD)
The Dutch bass Arnold van Mill was a longtime member of the Hamburg State Opera’s ensemble who also appeared at the Bayreuth Festival, counted among the world’s top singers for a good decade, and took part in several complete opera recordings, among them Karajan’s earlier Aida and Solti’s Tristan und Isolde. He had an exceptional voice of great volume and a rather light color that, even at its most forceful, could sound tender and beguiling. Unfortunately, his recital of German arias, which comprises most of the material on this CD, leaves much to be desired. His interpretations never go beyond the superficial, his diction is sloppy, and he lacks a genuine vis comica for van Bett (Zar und Zimmermann) and Baculus (Der Wildschütz) as well as the necessary demonic quality for Kaspar (Der Freischütz). Robert Wagner’s conducting of the Vienna Philharmonic reinforces the impression of a rather careless recording. The four early Vienna recordings by Otto Edelmann that round out the disc are of a totally different artistic caliber.

MAuer
June 4th, 2017, 05:24 PM
Summary of reviews from the June, 2017, issue of Das Opernglas (http://www.opernglas.de/)

RECOMMENDED

- Bizet: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
Conductor: Gianandrea Noseda
Director: Penny Woolcock
Cast: Diana Damrau, Matthew Polenzani, Mariusz Kwiecien, Nicolas Testé
Erato 9029589361 (1 DVD)
This is a visually appealing, musically “first class” production from the Met. Director Penny Woolcock and her production team have updated the action to present-day Sri Lanka, with structures suggesting wood and corrugated metal huts standing up over the water (providing several levels for the staging) and evocative projections showing pearl fishers gliding through the water. Poverty and environmental damage are hinted at, but the main focus remains on the central love story. Conductor Gianandrea Noseda leads the Met Orchestra with the requisite sensitivity for an intimate tone, French-Asian flair, and big drama, while the very busy Met Chorus, prepared by Donald Palumbo, makes an engaged, top-notch contribution to the proceedings. The cast members, especially the three protagonists, are vocally and dramatically convincing. Diana Damrau brings sweet piani and masterful coloratura to the role of Leila, and she can also produce vigorous, purposeful tone when needed – as in the duets, where her soprano acquires a luxuriant vibrato. In Zurga’s big aria, Mariusz Kwiecien ably conveys his character’s despair and finds a good balance between tonal beauty and excitement. As Nadir, Matthew Polenzani sings spotlessly, if not with the special quality that would give this figure’s many intimate, emotional moments the last touch of refinement. Nicolas Testé rounds out the ensemble as a fine Nourabad.

- Puccini: Turandot
Conductor: Riccardo Chailly
Director: Nikolaus Lehnhoff
Cast: Nina Stemme, Aleksandrs Antonenko, Maria Agresta, Alexander Tsymbaluk, Angelo Veccia, Roberto Covatta, Blagoj Nacoski, Carlo Bosi, Gianluca Breda, Azer Rza-Zada
Decca 0743937 (1 DVD)
An excellent cast, a superb conductor, orchestra, and chorus, and an effective staging distinguish this 2015 performance from La Scala. Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s production is marked by a Personenführung that focuses on the characters’ inner emotions and avoids any sort of cheap gimmickry. Raimund Bauer’s sets place events in an indeterminate time that could be either the distant past or the future. The dominant feature is a large wall toward the rear of the stage that functions as a sort of gallery for the choristers’ appearances or the Emperor’s opulent entrance, while a large circular configuration at the top makes Turandot’s appearance resemble that of the Queen of the Night in Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s well-known 1815 set, images of which have adorned many covers of Die Zauberflöte recordings. Andrea Schmidt-Futterer’s costumes likewise reflect no particular time period. In her black helmet with its projecting branches (antennae?), Turandot not inappropriately suggests a black widow spider; the ministers Ping, Pang, and Pong have a witty, grotesque look that occasionally reminds one of the Michelin Man; and the choristers sport similarly grotesque masks. The only “normally” clothed people are the three outsiders, Calaf, Liù, and Timur. Under the baton of Riccardo Chailly, La Scala’s Orchestra and Chorus deliver an opulent account of Puccini’s score that also contains some intimate moments, such as Liù’s death scene or the third act confrontation between Calaf and Turandot. Nina Stemme completely fills the title role, even if her big soprano occasionally shows some strain on top. Aleksandrs Antonenko is a vocally and dramatically credible Calaf, while Maria Agresta makes an ideal Liù with her lean, evenly produced soprano and touchingly believable portrayal. Smaller roles, such as those of the Emperor Altoum (Carlo Bosi) and Timur (Alexander Tsymbalyuk) have been satisfactorily cast, and there’s a wonderfully comical, unified trio of ministers in Angelo Veccia, Roberto Covatta, and Blagoj Nacoski as Ping, Pang, and Pong, respectively.

- Toshio Hosokawa: Stilles Meer (Silent Sea)
Conductor: Kent Nagano
Director: Oriza Hirata
Cast: Susanne Elmark, Mihoko Fujimura, Bejun Mehta, Viktor Rud, Marek Gasztecki
EuroArts 2072998 (1 DVD)
This is a video of the 2016 world premiere of Stilles Meer at the Hamburg State Opera, with the Staatsoper’s Music Director Kent Nagano on the podium. Toshio Hosokawa dedicated his opera to the victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, and the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant that occurred in its wake. The story is influenced by the Noh play Sumidagawa (Sumida River), and deals with the German ballet dancer Claudia, who had settled in Japan with her son Max years earlier and subsequently married a Japanese man. The disaster has claimed the lives of both son and husband, leaving Claudia emotionally overwhelmed and unable to cope with her loss. To complicate matters, Max’s German father Stephan shows up in Japan on the anniversary of the tsunami. Haruko, Claudia’s sister-in-law, tries to comfort her, but her consoling words are ultimately in vain. Stilles Meer is in the best sense of the word a Gesmantkunstwerk in which music, text, staging, and singing combine as a fascinating whole. Hosokawa’s music seems to meander through space and time without beginning or destination, and even when there are occasionally large concentrations of sound, softer tones generally prevail. The orchestra’s playing forms a sometimes unreal-sounding ground over which the vocal parts rise in long parlando lines. In Oriza Hirata’s staging, the soloists appear to act in slow motion, as though detached from the real world even though it won’t release its hold on them. In Ituru Sugiyama’s sets, the stage is dominated by a large glass circle which, depending on the lighting, can suggest water or the sky. Fuel rods suspended from the ceiling symbolize the danger of nuclear catastrophe. The singers are without exception outstanding and are clearly engaged with their emotionally demanding roles. Danish soprano Susanne Elmark portrays Claudia; the other parts are taken by countertenor Bejun Mehta (Stephan), Mihoko Fujimura (Haruko), and Viktor Rud and Marek Gaszteki as the fishermen Hiroto and Taro. Maestro Nagano capably leads his forces through the “maelstrom” of emotions in this opera.

- Offenbach: La Périchole (sung in German translation)
Conductor: Ernest Theiss
Cast: Sabine Brohm, Ralf Simon, Gerd Wiemer, Bernd Koennes, Marcus Guenzel, Jessica Glatt, Elke Kottmair, Tanja Höft
cpo 7774932 (2 CDs)
Offenbach’s opéra bouffe has a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy based on a one-act play by Prosper Merimée, which in turn was inspired by Micaela Villegas, a popular 18th century entertainer who was the mistress of the Viceroy of Peru, Manuel de Amat y Juniet, who ruled from 1761 to 1776. In the opera, events take place in Lima, where the impoverished street singers known as Périchole and Piquillo are trying to earn enough money to buy a marriage license. When a touring troupe of acrobats draws away their audience, they’re left without any remuneration for their performance. Piquillo goes in search of better opportunities while Périchole copes with hunger by sleeping. She’s spotted by the Viceroy, Don Andrès de Ribeiro, who takes quite a fancy to her and offers her a position of lady-in-waiting at his court. She doesn’t entirely trust him, but the mention of banquets – i.e., food – seals the deal. However, there’s a catch; ladies-in-waiting must be married women. Apparently, the prospect of some good meals is more attractive than her fiancé, so she writes a farewell letter to Piquillo. Meanwhile, the Mayor of Lima and Count Miguel de Panatellas have gone looking for a prospective husband (one who evidently won’t make a fuss over his wife’s liaison with the Viceroy), and come upon the tipsy Piquillo, on the verge of committing suicide after receiving Périchole’s letter. He agrees to the match, knowing only that his prospective bride is Don Andrès’ new favorite. So the pair are wed, but when Piquillo must present his new wife to the Viceroy, he recognizes Périchole and publicly humiliates her. He gets tossed in the dungeon in consequence, and when she attempts to obtain his freedom by bribing the jailer with the jewels the Viceroy has given her, the jailer turns out to be Don Andrès in disguise. So now the newlyweds are both in the slammer. But luckily for them, an old prisoner in a neighboring cell who has spent the past 12 years digging through the wall with a penknife has finally broken through. The three hatch a plot, and after Périchole lures the Viceroy to the dungeon, he ends up chained to the wall in place of the two lovers, after which the trio makes their escape. The fugitives hide out in the tavern The Three Cousins from the Viceroy and his soldiers, who are searching for them on the public square outside. Finally, in their original role as street singers, they perform a ballad about mercy that is flattering to Don Andrès in the hopes of softening up the old boy. It works; he forgives the couple and lets Périchole keep the jewels he gave her. The old prisoner turns out to be the Marquis de Santarèm, and since no one can recall why he was originally locked up, the Viceroy (who also doesn’t want any more prison walls destroyed) pardons him as well.
This recording by the Dresden State Operetta gets an enthusiastic endorsement from the reviewer, but I suspect it may have limited appeal outside the German-speaking countries as a result of being sung in translation instead of the original French. With the Staatsoperette’s long-serving Music Director Ernst Theiss wielding the baton, his forces give an account of Offenbach’s music that’s unpretentious, clear, and spirited, with varied dynamics and evident engagement. Soprano Sabine Brohm is a stellar Périchole, joined by tenor Ralf Simon, who brings clear articulation to the role of Piquillo. The other ensemble members perform at a very high level, with Jessica Glatt, Elke Kottmair, and Tanja Höft as especially appealing three cousins (from whom the tavern derives its name). As a bonus, the set also includes an appendix on the second CD along with the complete six-minute finale from the opera’s 1874 Vienna version, with Isabell Schmitt and Frank Ernst as Périchole and Piquillo.

- Debussy: L’enfant prodigue/Ravel: L’enfant et les sortilèges
Also includes the finale of Debussy’s Symphony in B-Minor, orchestrated by Colin Matthews
Conductor: Mikko Franck
Cast: Roberto Alagna, Karina Gauvin, Jean-François Lapointe (Debussy); Chloé Briot, Nathalie Stutzmann, Sabine Devieilhe, Jodie Devos, Jean-François Lapointe, Nicolas Courjal, Julie Pasturaud
Erato 9029589692 (2 CDs)
Though Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges is usually performed as a double bill with his other short opera, L’heure espagnole, conductor Mikko Franck decided to pair it on this recording with Debussy’s cantata L’enfant prodigue. The latter, which deals with the Biblical story of the prodigal son and for which the 22 year-old composer won the Prix de Rome, was later revised by Debussy as a “drame lyrique.” However, the influences of Gounod and especially Massenet remain evident. The top-class trio of soloists – Roberto Alagna (Azaël), Karina Gauvin (Lia), and Jean-François Lapointe (Siméon) – should do much to make this work attractive to a wider audience. Ravel’s opera has also been superbly cast, with mezzo Chloé Briot as the child, contralto Nathalie Stutzmann in the roles of the mother, Chinese cup, and dragonfly, and six other soloists appearing as several of the remaining 17 characters. There is a wealth of fabulous details to enjoy here, including the “ding, ding” of the clock, the cats’ love duet, the dance of the numbers, and the “grotesque” dialogue between the Chinese cup and the English teapot. Maestro Franck and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France show a fine sense of humor as well as subtlety in their interpretation of Ravel’s score.

- Elīna Garanča: Mozart and Vivaldi
Conductors/orchestras: Camerata Salzburg, Louis Langrée; Fabio Biondi, Europa Galante
Arias from La Clemenza di Tito, Cosi fan tutte, La Finta Giardiniera, and Bajazet; concert aria “Ch’io mi scordi di te . . . Non temer, amato bene” (KV 505)
Erato 9029590599 (1 CD)
This disc is a compilation of a Mozart recital and excerpts from a complete recording of Vivaldi’s Bajazet, both of which the soprano made near the beginning of her international career. In the former, she’s heard as both Dorabella and Fiordiligi in Cosi fan tutte, as Vitellia in La Clemenza di Tito, and in the breeches role of Ramiro in La finta giardiniera, as well as in the concert aria “Non temer, amato bene” (accompanied by orchestra and piano!); in Bajazet, she sings the castrato role of Andronico. It’s amazing to hear with what perfection and engagement the young Garanča brings Mozart’s characters to life and how wonderfully her interpretation makes the concert aria a “precious jewel.” The role of Vivaldi’s Andronico suits her well, and she impresses with her superlative virtuosity, beautiful singing, and fine characterization. In the Mozart selections, she’s partnered by Louis Langrée and the orchestra Camerata Salzburg, whose musicians prove they are among the best in this repertoire. In Bajazet, Fabio Biondi leads his ensemble Europa Galante in a performance loaded with energy and unabated enthusiasm.

- Olga Peretyatko: “Russian Light”
Conductor/orchestra: Dmitri Liss, Ural Philharmonic Orchestra
Arias and songs by Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff, Glinka, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky
Sony 88985352232 (1 CD)
Though soprano Olga Peretyatko is particularly well known as an interpreter of Rossini, she returns to her roots with this new album of Russian opera arias and art songs in which she’s accompanied by the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra under Dmitri Liss. The selections are presented in chronological order, beginning with Lyudmila’s cavatina from Glinka’s 1842 Ruslan and Lyudmila, and finishing with two arias from Moscow Cheryomushki, Shostakovich’s seldom performed 1957 operetta that’s a mixture of romance and satire. In between are arias from Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas, Rachmaninoff’s songs, and excerpts from Stravinsky’s 1914 Le Rossignol. With her wonderfully rounded, expressive voice, she masters coloratura passages with ease and conveys the poetry of the “Russian soul” in her singing. Especially impressive are Marfa’s aria from Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride, the lullaby from his Sadko, and Rachmaninoff’s incredibly beautiful Vocalise, op. 34, no. 14.

- Maria Bengtsson: Mozart Arias
Conductor/orchestra: Bertrand de Billy, Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne
Arias from Idomeneo, Die Zauberflöte, Don Giovanni, Le Nozze di Figaro, and Cosi fan tutte
MDG Gold MDG9401973 (1 SACD)
The Swedish soprano has established herself as one of today’s leading Mozarteans, having appeared at major opera houses as Ilia and Elettra (Idomeneo), Pamina (Die Zauberflöte), Donna Anna (Don Giovanni), Countess Almaviva (Le Nozze di Figaro), and Fiordiligi (Cosi fan tutte). On this new disc, accompanied by Bertrand de Billy and the Chamber Orchestra of Lausanne, she sings excerpts from each of these operas stylishly and with a fine feeling for their lyrical qualities. Her silky-smooth voice sounds fabulously beautiful and intimate in pianissimi; in dramatic passages, it gains in tonal colors and she sings with a great deal of expressivity.

- Xavier Sabata: “Catharsis”
Conductor/orchestra: George Petrou, Armonia Atenea
Arias by Handel, Vivaldi, Caldara, Hasse, Ariosti, Sarro, Orlandini, Conti, and Torri
Aparte AP 143 (1 CD)
This is another case of reviewers from this magazine and Opernwelt having completely opposite reactions to a recording. With the title “Catharsis,” which the critic translates as a “cleansing” (and is apparently why the graphic designers at Aparte decided to show Sabata standing in the shower), this CD contains arias and scenes from 18th century operas that deal with a sort of purification as the protagonists find themselves at a decisive moment in their lives. Along with the familiar Handel, Vivaldi, and Hasse, Sabata has included selections by such lesser known composers as Giuseppe Maria Orlandini, Pietro Torri, and Domenico Natale Sarro. With his low-lying, perfectly focused voice with its velvety, sensuous timbre, the countertenor masters the most difficult coloratura with breathtaking ease. Probably the most fascinating piece on this album is “Gelido in ogni vena” from Vivaldi’s Il Farnace, in which the title character thinks he is responsible for his son’s death and which is dramatically underscored by “ice-cold” orchestral chords. The manner in which Sabata expresses Farnace’s suffering and pangs of conscience is absolutely heartrending. Leading his HIP ensemble Armonia Atenea, George Petrou is an impassioned advocate for these forgotten musical “treasures” from the Baroque era, so that even the most trivial-sounding measures are brought to vital life.

- Roberta Invernizzi: “Queens – Opera Arias by Handel Premiered by Francesca Cuzzoni and Anna Maria Strada del Pò”
Conductor/orchestra: Fabio Ciofini, Accademia Hermans
Arias from Lotario, Poro, Berenice, Giulio Cesare, Scipione, Alcina, Giustino; Overture to Giulio Cesare; Sinfonia from Scipione
Glossa GCD922904 (1 CD)
The Queens referred to in this album’s title are not the prime donne Cuzzoni and Strada del Pò, but rather the monarchs from Handel’s operas that these 18th century divas portrayed. Milanese native Roberta Invernizzi has achieved international stature through her countless appearances in performances and on recordings of this composer’s operas and the extraordinary engagement with which she sings this music. In the selections on this disc, she creates portraits of queens from seven of Handel’s operas in which she provides listeners a deep look into the psyche of these women, most of whom are unhappy in love. There are four arias of Cleopatra from Giulio Cesare, of which the most significant and intimate is “Se pietà di me non senti” from Act II, scene 8. Alcina is among those sovereigns who have been abandoned by their lovers, and in the well-known “Ah! mio cor,” Invernizzi uses her beautiful, even soprano, which is “voluminously rounded” for all its silvery lightness, to penetrate the soul of this loving woman. There is very sensitive, nuanced accompaniment by Fabio Ciofini and his Accademia Hermans.

- “Vivaldi: Carnevale di Venezia”
Conductor/orchestra: Stefan Plewniak, Cappella dell'Ospedale della Pietà
Soloists: Miriam Albano, Natalia Kawalek (mezzo-sopranos), Jakub Józef Orlinski (countertenor)
Excerpts from Vivaldi operas L’Olimpiade, Il Giustino, Il Farnace, Griselda, and Il Tigrane; oratorio Judith Triumphans; Cantata RV684
Ëvoe Music 003 (1 CD)
What the listener hears on this recording by the young conductor from Krakow, Stefan Plewniak, and his three excellent soloists, Miriam Albano, Natalia Kawalek, and Jakub Józef Orlinski, is Vivaldi of a “super class.” The disc begins with the rapidly played Sinfonia from L’Olimpiade, in which the Cappella dell'Ospedale della Pietà impresses with their extraordinary precision, effectively emphasized dynamic contrasts, and uncommonly captivating interpretation. This ensemble is comprised entirely of women, as was its historic model during Vivaldi’s day. The composer had given the orphaned girls who lived at the Ospedale della Pietà the opportunity to play in an ensemble, and Plewniak decided to revive the tradition of an all-female orchestra in 2013. The arias from Il Giustino, Il Farnace, Il Tigrane, and others were all performed during Venice’s Carnevale season, and the pieces on this CD have been well chosen. The soloists’ beautiful voices are flexible and ideally suited for this strongly expressive, often impassioned and fiery music.

J.S. Bach: “Angenehme Melodei”
Conductor/orchestra: Alexander Grychtolik, Deutsche Hofmusik
Soloists: Katja Stuber (soprano), Franz Vitzthum (countertenor), Daniel Johannson (tenor)
Includes Cantatas O angenehme Melodei and Erwählte Pleissenstadt
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88985410522 (1 CD)
Even Bach experts may be astonished by this disc from Alexander Grychtolik and his chamber music ensemble Deutsche Hofmusik (German Court Music) with a pair of “tribute” cantatas the composer wrote in the 1730s-40s. Erwählte Pleissenstadt, BWV 216a, and O angenehme Melodei, BWV 216b, as heard here are careful, painstaking efforts at reconstructing these works, likely dedicated to wealthy Leipzig businessmen. (The actual addressees remain unknown.) The other cantatas were composed to celebrate the 1729 visit to Leipzig by Duke Christian of Sachsen-Weissenfels. The booklet included with the CD provides detailed information about the reconstruction and the occasions for which Bach wrote the pieces. In Erwählte Pleissenstadt, the gods Apollo and Mercury heap praise on the city described as the “pleasant Athens on the Pleiss.” Countertenor Franz Vitzthum and tenor Daniel Johannson sing this cheerful music, which is vaguely reminiscent of the sixth Brandenburg Concerto, with joyful expressivity. With her clear soprano and its attractive upper register, Katja Stuber delivers an impressive account of the very long solo cantata O angenehme Melodei.

- Miriam Alexander: “Pauline Viardot – German Lieder”
With Eric Schneider, pianist
Oehms Classics OC1878 (1 CD)
The opera singer, pianist, composer, and teacher Pauline Garcia Viardot was among the most important women of the 19th century, with Robert Schumann so impressed by her first songs that he dedicated his Heine cycle to her. Viardot was the subject of Greco-German soprano Miriam Alexander’s doctoral dissertation as well as her first recording. Partnered by Eric Schneider at the piano, Alexander has concentrated on Viardot’s settings of German texts, with poems by Eduard Mörike and Alexander Pushkin as the center. She sings these pieces with a fresh, youthful voice, wonderfully captures the mood of a spring evening in Emanuel Geibel’s “April,” and brings both charm and depth to her interpretation of the Mörike songs. The reviewer lauds this disc as “a rewarding excursion into unknown musical landscapes.”

- Ulrike Hofbauer: “ . . . und weil die Musik lieblich ist”
With the ensemble Musick & Mirth
Compositions by Balthasar Fritsch
Harmonia Mundi 6062273 (1 CD)
This album by Musick & Mirth, comprised of soprano Ulrike Hofbauer and four musicians, is devoted to works written by Balthasar Fritsch shortly before the outbreak of the Thirty Years War. Almost no biographical information is available for Fritsch, who was born in 1580. The disc’s title comes from a line of text the composer himself probably wrote: “ . . . und weil die Musik lieblich ist” (and because the music is charming). There is a variety of madrigals and dance music, played on such instruments as the descant gamba, alto gamba, tenor gamba, and bass gamba. It sounds pretty weird to modern ears, but it’s still a lot of fun and fosters a good mood. Hofbauer sings the madrigals with a crystal-clear, luminous voice and conveys a feeling of cheerful tranquility. As the title suggests, it’s often quite charming.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Berlioz: Benvenuto Cellini
Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Director: Philipp Stölzl
Cast: Burkhard Fritz, Maja Kovalevska, Kate Aldrich, Mikhail Petrenko, Laurent Naouri, Brindley Sherratt
Naxos NBD 0006 (1 Blu-ray disc)
There is a lot to like in this performance from the 2007 Salzburg Festival, though the men in the cast are not up to the same standard as everyone else involved in this production. As both director and scenic designer, Philipp Stölzl has placed events within an opulent, film-worthy setting that has been captured on a Blu-ray disc of very good sound and image quality. The look is futuristic, with magnificent photo montages, a helicopter, hot air balloons, railroad, robot, an aircraft for the Pope, and a shark, with references to Piranesi’s Carceri and a Batman fantasy rounding things out. All of it doesn’t fail to make an impact, though the opera’s plot recedes a little bit in this flood of visuals. There is a powerful musical interpretation by Valery Gergiev and the Vienna Philharmonic. The conductor makes the most of the score’s tonal colors while exploring its dynamic contrasts, and isn’t afraid of sonic excess, so that Berlioz’s inclination to manic ecstasy is impressively conveyed. Among the soloists, Maja Kovalevsla (Teresa) and Kate Aldrich (Ascanio) are the standouts. Burkhard Fritz, who was a replacement for Neil Shicoff as Cellini, makes a real effort in this demanding tenor role but remains pallid, as do his colleagues Mikhail Petrenko (Pope Clement VII), Laurent Naouri (Fieramosca), and Brindley Sherrett (Giacomo). On the other hand, there is a magnificent contribution from the concert formation of the Vienna State Opera Chorus, prepared by Andreas Schüller.

- Wagner: Lohengrin
Conductor: Sir Mark Elder
Cast: Klaus-Florian Vogt, Camilla Nylund, Katarina Dalayman, Evgeny Nikitin, Falk Struckmann, Samuel Youn
RCO 17002 (3 CDs)
In this concert performance from Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Sir Mark Elder and his musicians deliver a reading of Wagner’s partitur marked by vitality and a wealth of contrasts. Sir Mark’s theatrical instincts serve him well in this setting; his fluid tempos and flexible, occasionally robust approach provide the needed excitement and dramatic tension. There is plenty of contrast among the soloists, too, but not always in a positive sense. While there will probably always be varying reactions to Klaus-Florian Vogt’s “white” tenor, his Lohengrin is exemplary. His singing is cultivated and clear, he shapes the musical line with no strain, his phrasing is supple, and he uses a sonorous dynamic restraint in lyrical passages. Camilla Nylund (Elsa) comes closest to Vogt in offering what one would consider a refined interpretation. Her beautiful soprano has a radiant power that isn’t lessened when she sings delicately. Nonetheless, her vibrato is irritating and much sounds rather pinched. As Telramund, Evgeny Nikitin shows poor vocal manners; while his tone has a suitably dark color, he deploys his Heldenbariton in a penetrating, occasionally unpleasantly direct, bellowing fashion. That may have an effectively wild quality about it, but it doesn’t allow him to come anywhere near to his great predecessors in this role. Katarina Dalayman brings a deep, clearly focused soprano to Ortrud, but infusing every word with venom is evidently “not her thing.” Quite the contrary; where dramatic height is called for, she reduces phrases to nothing but vocalises. And speaking of height: her upper register is slurred and literally shaken by vibrato. Falk Struckmann (King Heinrich) has now transitioned from bass-baritone to bass roles, though at the expense of sonority in these parts’ lower reaches. Still, his strikingly powerful style stands him in good stead here, making his Heinrich a decidedly vital ruler in spite of conspicuous vibrato and some hollow tones. Samuel Youn’s Herald is disappointing, especially in the first act, with forced bellowing and discolored diction. The combined forces of the Netherlands Radio Chorus and Dutch National Opera Chorus impress less with their unity and more with the expansive fullness of their singing.

- Handel: Catone
Conductor: Carlo Ipata
Cast: Sonia Prina, Lucia Cirillo, Riccardo Novaro, Kristina Hammerström, Roberta Invernizzi
Glossa GCD923511 (2 CDs)
This work is officially attributed to Handel, but it’s actually a pasticcio in which his contribution is limited to the secco recitatives. It’s based on Metastasio’s Catone in Utica, which was used by Vivaldi and Leonardo Vinci for their operas of the same name. In 1729, another opera by Leonardo Leo based on the same source had its world premiere in Venice, and Handel had wanted to perform this work at London’s Royal Academy of Music during the 1732-33 season. Unfortunately, the roles in Leo’s version were written for entirely different voice types than were available in the Royal Academy’s ensemble, so that Handel could only use the arias of Catone and Marzia. A total of nine numbers, these are predominantly “arie parlanti” for gestural, declaiming characters with a high-spirited, impulsive treatment of the text that really doesn’t convey the melodic quality of Leo’s writing. Much the same could be said of Leo’s arias for Caesar and Arbace, but Handel was unable to use them for the aforementioned reason, and transposition, for whatever cause, was apparently not an option. So Handel relied on the customary pasticcio practice of the time and helped himself to successful bravura arias by a variety of different composers. This live recording stems from a series of concert performances at last year’s Halle Handel Festival and offers a good, though not outstanding cast. The most lasting impression is made by Riccardo Novaro (Caesar) with his flexible bass coloratura, while mezzo Kristina Hammerström displays a beautiful voice in what likely was the castrato role of the Numidian Prince Arbace. With her chesty mezzo, Sonia Prina is a more blasé than heroic Catone, and though Roberta Invernizzi (Emilia) and Lucia Cirillo (Marzia) dispatch their virtuosic coloratura passages unobjectionably, their attractive “quicksilver” sopranos are really too lightweight for their tragic roles, which fill large stretches of this “effect-neutral” music. On the plus side, there is fresh, beautiful playing by the HIP orchestra Auser Musici under the baton of founder Carlo Ipata, which actually sounds more inspired than the pasticcio does.

- Britta Glaser: “Der Mond is aufgegangen – Mahler, Schoeck, Strauss”
With Matthias Veit (pianist)
Tyxart TXA17089 (1 CD)
Othmar Schoeck was a contemporary of Mahler and Strauss, and like them, a significant Lieder composer. This interesting album by soprano Britta Glaser and pianist Matthias Veit contains a program of songs by all three, in which the Mahler and Schoeck pieces are bracketed by pairs of famous Strauss songs. Of particular note is Schoeck’s cycle Wandbeker Lieder with settings of 17 poems by Matthias Claudius. It’s hard to imagine that Glaser, with her light, slender, silvery soprano that really isn’t suited to the Strauss Lieder, began her career as a mezzo. Humorous songs such as Mahler’s “Ablösung in Sommer” are a much better fit, and she finds her own light, subtly emotional tone for the Schoeck cycle, with “Abendlied,” Claudius’ best known poem, achieving an especially beautiful effect.

SAVE YOUR MONEY

- Verdi: Oberto
Conductor: Markus Bosch
Cast: Woong-Joo Choi, Anna Princeva, Katarina Hebelkova, Adrian Dumitru, Daniela Banasova
Coviello Classics COV91702 (2 CDs)
The Heidenheim Festival’s management may have hoped to raise this event’s profile with a cycle of early Verdi operas using historic performance practices. In addition to productions in the Congress Center Festspielhaus, each opera will also be documented in an audio recording. Whether this endeavor is going to be helpful or not is certainly open to question based on this release from last year’s Festival of Verdi’s first opera. Many of the roles were cast with young singers – another part of the concept – which has its justification in a staged production. But on CD, these individuals are faced with competition they simply cannot match. In the case of Oberto, that means names like Ramey, Bergonzi, or Urmana. The young soloists sing with great engagement, but are audibly coming up against their limits. Anna Princeva (Leonora) displays lovely piani, but also a raw, often sharp upper register; Katarina Hebelkova throws herself into the role of Cuniza with verve, but she’s not up to the part’s dramatic coloratura; Woong-Joo Choi brings an impressive bass to the title role and is content to leave it at that; and Adrian Dumitru would make a fine Nemorino, but right now, his beautiful tenor is overtaxed in a Verdi part. According to the Festival’s management, the event’s own orchestra, Capella Aquileia, whose members play on partially reconstructed instruments, is the centerpiece of Heidenheim’s Verdi cycle. The reviewer wonders if it’s the ensemble’s sound or the conducting by Festspiele director Marcus Bosch that makes Verdi’s music sound relatively muted.

Amfortas
June 4th, 2017, 07:20 PM
- Puccini: Turandot
Conductor: Riccardo Chailly
Director: Nikolaus Lehnhoff
Cast: Nina Stemme, Aleksandrs Antonenko, Maria Agresta, Alexander Tsymbaluk, Angelo Veccia, Roberto Covatta, Blagoj Nacoski, Carlo Bosi, Gianluca Breda, Azer Rza-Zada
Decca 0743937 (1 DVD)

I'm surprised there's no mention that they use the Berio finale.

Clayton
June 5th, 2017, 03:28 PM
Here we go again...

Hosokawa's Stilles Meer goes into the shopping basket

MAuer
June 29th, 2017, 01:05 PM
Summary of reviews from the July, 2017, issue of Opernwelt (http://www.opernwelt.de/):

RECOMMENDED

- Donizetti: Rosmonda di Inghilterra
Conductor: Sebastiano Rolli
Director: Paola Rota
Cast: Jessica Pratt, Dario Schmunck, Eva Mei, Nicola Ulivieri, Raffaela Lupinacci
Dynamic/Naxos 37757 (2 DVDs)
This performance from last year’s Bergamo Festival is essentially a reconstruction of the original version of Donizetti’s opera based on the historical figures of King Henry II of England, his mistress Rosamund Clifford, and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. Premiering two months after Lucrezia Borgia and a year-and-a-half before Lucia di Lammermoor, Rosmonda di Inghilterra is “in all respects” a work of the composer’s mature period, according to the reviewer. Donizetti discarded the pattern of the romantic melodrama in favor of a modern understanding of musical drama. This production is gripping in both musical performance and dramatic realization. Director Paola Rota focuses on the essentials in her nuanced Personenführung and economical movements that are supported by Nicolas Bovey’s pared-down, abstract sets. This approach is particularly effective in the confrontational duet between Enrico and Leonora (i.e., Eleanor) in the second act. Dario Schmunk and Eva Mei as the royal couple are in superb form vocally as well. Jessica Pratt’s Rosmonda is paler and, with her cutting high notes, somewhat cooler; however, bass Nicola Ulivieri as Rosmonda’s father and mezzo Raffaela Lupinacci in the breeches role of the amorous page Arturo leave nothing to be desired. On the podium of the Donizetti Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Sebastiano Rolli impresses from the start with his detailed, sparkling account of the overture and then in the dramatic accents which he brings to his reading of Donizetti’s score.

- Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia
Conductor: Richard Bonynge
Director: John Copley
Cast: Dame Joan Sutherland, Alfredo Kraus, Stafford Dean, Anne Howells, Jonathan Summers, Robin Leggate, Francis Egerton, Roderick Kennedy, Phillip Gelling, Paul Hudson
Opus Arte/Naxos OA 1237 D (1 DVD)
This 1980 performance from the Royal Opera House is characteristic of its time and of the singers in the two leads. John Copley’s staging is very traditional and lavish; Richard Bonynge’s interpretation is more solemn and significant than pulsing with drama; and Dame Joan and Alfredo Kraus pose more than they act. Still, both were at the peak of their careers and were probably the reason Covent Garden mounted the production. The soprano impresses in the title role with vocal power and technical skill rather than a touching portrayal, while Kraus makes Gennaro more of a Spanish Grandee than an impulsive youth, but overpowers with the radiant beauty of his flexible tenor. He practically stops the show with his delivery of “T’amo qual s’ama un angelo,” an aria that Donizetti added later and which is not included in Kraus’ 1966 recording of the role on the RCA label. Anne Howells’ Orsini and Stafford Dean’s Alfonso are on a par with the two stars.

- Meyerbeer: Grand Opera
With Diana Damrau (soprano)
Selections from Le Prophète, Robert le diable, L’Etoile du Nord, L’Africaine, Il Crociatto in Egitto, Dinorah, Emma di Resburgo, Ein Feldlager in Schlesien, and Les Huguenots, plus Weber’s Alimelek oder die beiden Kalifen
Conductor/orchestra: Emmanuel Villaume, Orchestra and chorus of the Opéra national de Lyon
Erato 9029584901 (1 CD)
The German soprano’s album of Meyerbeer arias has been chosen as the July issue’s CD of the Month. Despite the title, the disc includes selections from the composer’s Opéras Comiques and Italian and German works as well as those in the Grand Opera format, and provides an overview of his artistic development from the 1813 Alimelek to the 1865 L’Africaine. Damrau’s voice has audibly matured, and it’s “astonishing” to hear with what supreme assurance she uses different colors to lend credibility to the characters she portrays. The impressive coloratura is still there, whether in the showpiece aria “Ombra légère” from Dinorah or in Queen Marguerite’s “O beau pays de la Touraine” from Les Huguenots, the latter performed with its seldom-heard middle section with wonderful echo effects as the singer’s lines alternate with those of the Chorus. Fluent in French (she speaks the language at home with her husband, Nicolas Testé), Damrau delivers the text with a clarity that makes every syllable plain, while her technique – like Meyerbeer’s own inclination – brings Italianate style to her interpretations and allows her to explore new forms of expression. In Berthe’s cavatina from Le Prophète, which begins with a triad extending nearly two octaves from low B-sharp to high B, her registers are blended with “incredible elegance.” Such feats are aided by a disciplined, discreet breath control, even if it must be mentioned that some high notes are quite shrill and there are slight insecurities in intonation of the “neighbor notes” in the coloratura. But such minor blemishes are inconsequential when weighed against the overall quality of this recording.

- Véronique Gens: “Visions”
Conductor/orchestra: Hervé Niquet, Munich Radio Orchestra
Arias from operas, oratorios, and cantatas by Bizet, Massenet, Halévy, Saint-Saëns, F. David, Bruneau, C. Franck, Godard, Niedermeyer, and Février
Alpha ALPHA279 (1 CD)
This new CD can be viewed as a continuation of Véronique Gens’ years-long Tragédiennes project, and as in previous releases, she demonstrates that tonal beauty is not the measure of all things. Her ideal extends farther, with interpretations that are unadorned, vital, and unbounded; what interests her is the inner life of each of the women she portrays in these selections – their ambivalence, strengths, and vulnerability. With her varied, colorful voice that’s equal parts seductive “perfume” and very sharp attacks, she lends these figures authenticity and vividness. It’s as though the listener encounters the living individuals with all of their diverse “visions,” from the madness in Louis Niedermeyer’s Stradella (described by the reviewer as a “drama par excellence in the spirit of Gounod”) to the transfiguration in the rising drama of César Franck’s Les Béatitudes or the rapture of celestial spheres in Henry Février’s Gismonda. Gens needs no stage trappings to transform herself into these characters; her ability to act with her voice is sufficient. And that ability really is magnificent, even if she’s chosen to present pieces from works that have never made it into the mainstream repertoire.

- Ruby Hughes: “Heroines of Love and Loss”
With Mime Yamahiro Brinkmann (cello) and Jonas Nordberg (lute, theorbo)
Vocal chamber music of the 17th century by Purcell, Vivaldi, Kapsberger, Piccinini, F. Cacchini, Bennett, Strozzi, Sessa, Vizzana, and others
BIS-2248 (1 CD)
British soprano Ruby Hughes offers a diverse, well-conceived program of both well-known and unfamiliar pieces in this new album. She sings Dido’s famous “When I am laid in earth” from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, accompanied by cellist Mime Yamahiro Brinkmann and Jonas Nordberg on the 14-stringed theorbo, with an incomparable delicacy, as though the despairing Queen has already swallowed the poison with which she’s chosen to end her life. The heroines referenced in the title may also apply to four of the composers whose music is heard here: Barbara Strozzi, Claudia Sessa, Lucrezia Vizzana, and Francesca Cacchini, the multitalented daughter of the better known Giulio Cacchini. Strozzi is represented by the lament, “Lagrime mie,” which Hughes sings with the greatest intimacy and a feeling for the music’s “tonal boldness.” Even better is the soprano’s account of Cacchini’s “Lasciatemi qui solo,” which is delivered with a melting beauty that makes her a modern-day successor to Cacchini, who was celebrated among her contemporaries for the finely-spun loveliness of her voice.

- J.S. Bach: Cantatas for Soprano
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Andreas Wolf (bass-baritone)
Conductor/orchestra: Petra Müllejans, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902252 (1 CD)
Another fine soprano from the U.K. is heard in these three Bach cantatas, Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten; Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn; and Mein Herze schwimmt. Carolyn Sampson’s pellucid voice is paired with clear declamation and “urgent” diction. Petra Müllejans leads the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra in a straightforward manner that nonetheless can sound a little too bloodless.

- Carolyn Sampson: “Come All Ye Songsters”
With Elizabeth Kenny (lute), Jonathan Manson (bass gamba), and Laurence Cummings (harpsichord)
Songs and instrumental pieces by Purcell, Draghi, Corbetta, Simpson, et. al.
Wigmore Hall Live WHLIVE0083 (1 CD)
Ms. Sampson is heard again in this live recording of a 2015 Wigmore Hall concert, where she sings pieces by Purcell, Giovanni Battista Draghi, Francesco Corbetta, and Thomas Simpson. Her style is unpretentious and unobtrusive, with ease in the countless melismas, a flowing breath, and transparent declamation. She engages in an attractively cultivated “dialogue” with instrumentalists Elizabeth Kenny, Jonathan Manson, and Laurence Cummings. Perhaps a touch of glamour is missing, but the artists’ contemplative interpretations and eloquent rhetoric win the listener over.

- Fernand de La Tombelle: Mélodies
Tassis Christoyannis (baritone), Jeff Cohen (pianist)
Aparte AP 148 (1 CD)
As a Lied interpreter, baritone Tassis Christoyannis has concentrated on the French Mélodie, with previous recordings of songs by Félicien David, Benjamin Godard, Lalo, and Saint-Saëns, all of them on the Aparte label. He’s devoted this latest disc to a genuine rarity in the composer Fernand de La Tombelle (1854-1928), a student of the great organist Théodore Dubois and a conservative stylist who wrote mainly organ and chamber music. In addition, he composed approximately 100 art songs which followed the French tradition of giving primacy to the declamation of the text. Christoyannis has chosen 23 of them in a representative sample that gives a good overview of De Tombelle’s Mélodies. Most of them are written in a through-composed, simple style that is close to speech patterns. But it’s the few strophic songs with their sometimes archaic, folkloric influences and sometimes chanson-like sound that are the most charming in this program. An example is the Rococo “Sonnet,” which reproduces speech form in a very original manner and concludes with a little piano postlude. Original also are those pieces that break from the monotony of romantic texts, such as the funeral march “Chant-Priére,” written in 1917 to honor French war dead, or the pastoral scene “Ha! Les bœufs” with its rumbling bordun bass. On the whole, however, La Tombelle’s work is not up to the standard of the masters of the Mélodie, having neither Duparc’s “visionary simplicity” nor Debussy’s eloquent translation of speech patterns into music. It’s solid craftsmanship, but no more. On the other hand, this recording is convincing in every respect. With inspired accompaniment by pianist Jeff Cohen, Christoyannis uses all of his artistry to make the case for this forgotten composer, from rich tonal colors and a broad expressive range to nuanced vocal production. His singing possesses charm, cheeky irony, and a chanson-like immediacy.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Verdi: I due Foscari
Conductor: Sir Antonio Pappano
Director: Thaddeus Strassberger
Cast: Francesco Meli, Maria Agresta, Plácido Domingo, Maurizio Murano, Samuel Sakker, Rachel Kelly, Lee Hickenbottom, Dominic Barrand
Opus Arte OA 1207 D (1 DVD)
The star of this 2015 Royal Opera House performance is Sir Tony Pappano, who leads his forces with a firm hand and elicits playing that has the right combination of rhythmic verve and emotional rubato. There is also a pleasing Jacopo Foscari from Francesco Meli with his idiomatic, subtle singing, but Plácido Domingo lacks the necessary baritone colors for the part of Francesco Foscari. Director Thaddeus Strassberger’s stiff production takes place on a mostly dark stage (sets by Kevin Knight), with the singers in historic costumes (Mattie Ulrich) and usually positioned near the center – something video director Jonathan Haswell doesn’t help by following Strassberger’s example. The only spot of color occurs in the prison scene, where Jacopo hallucinates grisly visions of torture and execution.

- Verdi: La Traviata
Conductor: Pablo Heras-Casado
Director: Rolando Villazón
Cast: Olga Peretyatko, Atalla Ayan, Simone Piazzola, Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Tom Fox, Christina Daletska, Konstantin Wolff, Walter Fink, Deniz Uzun, Stefan Geyer, Hermann Oswald
Unitel 733708 (1 DVD)
This performance from the 2015 Baden Baden Festival has little to recommend it aside from Olga Peretyatko’s deeply touching rendition of “Addio del passato” and her complete identification with Violetta – though that doesn’t happen until the final act. Atalla Ayan sings clearly as Alfredo, but is a pallid lover due to poor direction, and Simone Piazzola’s Giorgio Germont is described by the reviewer as having a voice as gray as his costume. It would have been interesting to hear Verdi’s score played on historic instruments, but the advantages of having the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble in the pit are undercut by annoyingly mannered, often mechanically brisk conducting by Pablo Heras-Casado (whom the reviewer considers overrated). Rolando Villazón’s staging concept, which places the action within a circus arena, is a collection of current Regietheater clichés. Violetta imagines everything she experiences and has a double in a trapeze artist. This approach works to a certain extent in the party scenes with the grotesquely costumed guests, but it deprives the performance of the intimate drama among Violetta, Alfredo, and his father.

- Verdi: Un ballo in maschera
Conductor: Zubin Mehta
Director: Johannes Erath
Cast: Piotr Beczala, Anja Harteros, George Petean, Okka von der Damerau, Sofia Fomina, Andrea Borghini, Anatoli Sivko, Scott Conner
Unitel 739408 (1 DVD)
Regisseur Johannes Erath also treats the action in his 2016 Bavarian State Opera production of Un ballo in maschera as Riccardo’s dream in which the nobleman is recalling events in his past, with Ulrica as the key player. Masks, deception, and reflections – even involving the large double bed that dominates the set – obscure the work in a way that’s often difficult to sort out. The director’s great strength is his psychologically precise Personenführung, which gives sharp contours to figures who otherwise receive little attention. Okka von der Damerau’s Ulrica is free of the usual demonic character, while Sofia Fomina’s Oscar is a gay youth who finally comes out near the opera’s conclusion. Anja Harteros and Piotr Beczala are excellent as the unhappy lovers; she almost effortlessly masters Verdi’s most difficult soprano role, and he lends elegance to the “dream dancer” Riccardo. They shine in the great Act II love duet, but unfortunately, their farewell duet is nearly spoiled by Zubin Mehta’s massive, excessively ponderous conducting.

- Wagner: Lohengrin
Conductor: Sir Mark Elder
Cast: Klaus-Florian Vogt, Camilla Nylund, Katarina Dalayman, Evgeny Nikitin, Falk Struckmann, Samuel Youn
RCO 17002 (3 CDs)
The best part of this live “semi-staged” concert performance from Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw is Sir Mark Elder’s conducting of the “world class” Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. From the beginning, the Maestro leaves no doubts about his ability to intelligently shape Wagner’s score; the prelude is direct, firm, and clearly structured without sacrificing atmosphere, while throughout the opera the orchestra fills the hall with their magnificent sound. Would that the singing were of a similar caliber. The recording microphone seems to draw attention to any vocal defects, so that Falk Struckmann’s King Heinrich sounds worn and gray, Camilla Nylund is an overly mature-sounding Elsa with a flickering soprano, Evgeny Nikitin’s Telramund has “frenetic moments” when he’s in desperate straits, and Katarina Dalayman’s portrayal of Ortrud is lacking distinctive contours. Klaus Florian Vogt’s Lohengrin is best experienced in the theater, where he is able to make the most of his personality and powerful projection; here the microphone only emphasizes his “white” timbre.

- Saint-Saëns: Proserpine
Conductor: Ulf Schirmer
Cast: Véronique Gens, Marie-Adeline Henry, Frédéric Antoun, Andrew Foster-Williams, Jean Teitgen
Ediciones Singulares ES 1027 (2 CDs plus book)
Proserpine is the latest in a succession of recordings of French opera rediscoveries by the Palazzetto Bru Zane, and is performed here in the 1899 revision of the work, which premiered in 1887. Louis Gallet’s libretto is based on Auguste Vaquerie’s 1838 experimental drama, which the reviewer observes lost much of its sharpness in the operatic adaptation. The title figure is not the mythical goddess Proserpina (Persephone), but a Renaissance courtesan condemned for her profligacy to never being able to experience genuine love. To even approach it is torture to her. In a cynical test, Renzo challenges Sabatino, who is in love with Renzo’s sister Angiola, to seduce Proserpine; only then will he consent to Angiola’s marriage with Sabatino. What Renzo didn’t count on was that the courtesan would fall in love with his prospective brother-in-law. In the final scene of the opera’s original version, Gallet followed Vaquerie’s play and had the jealous Proserpine stab the “angelic” Angiola, after which she’s slain by Sabatino. This wasn’t the sort of thing the Opéra Comique’s audience wanted to see, so the librettist supplied a revised version in which Proserpine tries to stab Angiola but is prevented from doing so by Sabatino, whereupon she uses the stiletto to kill herself. Saint-Saëns’ colorful music does only partial justice to what the reviewer calls the disillusioned portrayal of two bons vivants caught between a saint and a prostitute. Nonetheless, his subtle orchestration and individualized shaping of vocal lines in a “dense weave” of Leitmotifs is fascinating. Though the work is unlikely to be staged again, the concert performance makes a positive impression of the “overpowering” musical qualities of a not particularly original drama. On the podium of the Munich Radio Orchestra, Ulf Schirmer draws a plush Wagnerian sound from his musicians in a “leveling” interpretation almost entirely lacking in such “complicated things” as rubato or the use of different pitches in the declamation of the text. As Proserpine, Véronique Gens relies on thick musical lines and high notes that are “smeared upward” from below. The captivating “perfume” of her vibrato-rich soprano leaves little room for her character’s bitterness and despair. Andrew Foster-Williams is a coarse Squarocca, a sort of Sparafucile figure who is briefly Proserpine’s lover. Only Frédéric Antoun (Sabatino) shows that a nuanced treatment of the text is an important component of singing French opera. This work really deserves better than the routine performance it’s been given here.

SAVE YOUR MONEY

- “Richard Wagner: Liebeserklärung”
Maria Bulgakova (soprano), Andrej Hoteev (pianist)
Sonata for Mathilde Wesendonk's Album; Schlaflos - music letter for piano in G major to Mathilde Wesendonck; Wesendonck-Lieder; Elegy in A flat; Der Tannenbaum, WWV 50; Dors, mon enfant, WWV 53; L'attente, WWV 55; Mignonne, allons voir si la rose, WWV 57
Hänssler Classics/Naxos HC 16058 (1 CD)
The reviewer says this disc should never have been released. Although it contains material that is infrequently heard, such as piano pieces written during Wagner’s stay in Lucerne, four songs from 1838/39 (not a world premiere recording, as the label claims), or the original version of the Wesendonck Lieder, soprano Maria Bulgakova’s performance is scarcely acceptable. Her voice is heavy, with poor intonation and hardly any attempt at shaping the text. The alert playing of Andrej Hoteev on the “earthy-sounding” Steingraeber concert grand piano is unsufficient compensation for the singer’s inadequacy.

HISTORICAL

“Ticho Parly Sings Wagner”
Conductor/orchestra: Peter Maag, Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin
Excerpts from Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, Parsifal, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung, Fidelio, and Der Freischütz
Deutsche Grammophon Eloquence 482 2867 (1 CD)
Universal Australia discovered this January, 1966, DG recording by the Danish tenor Ticho Parly in the archives, and it’s now been reissued as part of the label’s Eloquence series. A couple of arias by Beethoven and Weber were recorded at the same time, apparently intended for a later LP that was never made, so they were finally added to the Wagner album. Parly (1928-1993) wasn’t in the same league as his countryman Lauritz Melchior, but had a pleasant voice with a free midrange and a compact, throaty quality when he sang forte. In both Siegfried’s Forging Song and Tannhäuser’s Rome Narration, one detects a discreet flickering and hears a timbre that’s a curious admixture of Jon Vickers and Rudolf Schock. Today, one would be pleased to have such a solid, tireless tenor who doesn’t cause any worries onstage, even if Parly doesn’t inspire any raptures and his characterizations are not especially varied, without either Melchior’s heart-stirring aspect or Vickers’ black, inscrutable quality. Still, he’s able to successfully master the final portion of Florestan’s aria and convey the hysterical tone of the prisoner’s plea for hope against the admission of futility.

DOCUMENTARY

- “Pilar Lorengar – Voice & Mystery”
A film by Arturo Méndiz
Arthaus 109331 (1 DVD)
The Spanish soprano was something of a rarity in the postwar era, an international prima donna who appeared at the world’s leading opera houses but remained an ensemble member of a single theater for more than three decades. The Deutsche Oper Berlin was her artistic home, where she sang roles by Mozart, Verdi, and Puccini as well as Wagner’s Elsa, Tchaikovsky’s Tatyana, and the title role in Janáček’s Jenůfa. She had a very dignified appearance and a rather reserved stage temperament. This 54-minute film by Arturo Méndiz is not the typical biography, having no information on her artistic development, roles, and interpretations, and very few examples of her singing. Instead, it probes the secrets of a woman who took great pains to reveal as little as possible about herself. Méndiz interviews her friends, relatives, and colleagues, but maintains discretion when dealing with private matters. The reviewer likens it to having a veil spread over such things as premarital love affairs, though the drape is transparent enough to let the viewer use his or her imagination. Lorengar’s marriage to the dentist Jürgen Schaff was volatile due to his philandering, yet she saw his infidelity as a just punishment for her role in destroying Schaff’s previous relationship. The most interesting part of the film deals with her childhood in Saragossa, where she attended a convent school for a time, but had to earn money as a teenager for her impoverished family by singing in tavernas. At a very young age, she made a name for herself as a Zarzuela singer and even appeared in films. It was only in the mid-1950s, with her appearance at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, that her opera career took off. In 1958, Carl Ebert engaged her at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, and she made her final appearance there in 1990 as Tosca. Over the decades, her voice had lost nothing of its youthful, blooming splendor. She died in 1996 at the age of only 68 from cancer.

Clayton
June 29th, 2017, 03:09 PM
One more for the shopping basket:

Rosmonda di Inghilterra

Soave_Fanciulla
July 2nd, 2017, 07:51 AM
One more for the shopping basket:

Rosmonda di Inghilterra

Also get Heroines of love and loss. It is utterly exquisite. Dido's lament actually had me weeping. Ruby Hughes is one to watch....

http://bis.se/shop/17115/art15/h9985/4999985-origpic-279e36.jpg

Festat
July 3rd, 2017, 08:15 AM
Also get Heroines of love and loss. It is utterly exquisite. Dido's lament actually had me weeping. Ruby Hughes is one to watch...
Yes. Buy it.

Clayton
July 3rd, 2017, 10:27 AM
Going directly to checkout
Not passing Go and not collecting $200.

MAuer
July 6th, 2017, 05:34 PM
There’s an interesting variety of recordings reviewed in this double July-August, 2017, issue of Das Opernglas (https://www.opernglas.de/):

RECOMMENDED

- Cilea: Adriana Lecouvreur
Conductor: Sir Mark Elder
Director: Sir David McVicar
Cast: Angela Gheorghiu, Jonas Kaufmann, Olga Borodina, Alessandro Corbelli, Maurizio Murano, David Soar, Iain Paton, Janis Kelly, Sarah Castle, Bonaventura Bottone
Decca 0743459 (2 DVDs)
I’m not sure why this video is included among the reviews in this issue, as it’s been available for a few years already. The only possible explanation seems to be that Anna Netrebko recently made her role debut as Adriana at St. Petersburg’s White Nights Festival and is scheduled to appear at the Vienna State Opera in this production by Sir David McVicar. The Regisseur gets high marks from the reviewer for a staging that combines a film-worthy realization of the early 18th century Comédie Française and lavish Baroque costumes with deeply moving, credible flesh-and-blood characters. The cast is top-notch, with Angela Gheorghiu giving a multifaceted portrayal of the heroine with her “velvety, shimmering” soprano and glowing top. Jonas Kaufmann is very nearly an ideal Maurizio, convincing in both heroic passages and tender moments, the latter confirming him as a master of messa di voce. Even if his piani often sound rather throaty, that does nothing to diminish the overall quality of his performance. Alessandro Corbelli is a very touching Michonnet and in remarkably good voice, especially since he’s in the fourth decade of his operatic career. Olga Borodina is an imposing Princesse de Bouillon, and only on high notes does she force too strongly. Sir Mark Elder draws almost Impressionistic-sounding tonal colors from the Royal Opera House Orchestra, capably builds dramatic climaxes, and knows exactly what Cilea’s music needs to make a decisive emotional impact on the listener.

- Mozart: Mitridate, rè di Ponto
Conductor: Emmanuelle Haïm
Director: Clément Hervieu-Léger
Cast: Michael Spyres, Patricia Petibon, Myrtò Papatanasiu, Christophe Dumaux, Sabine Devieilhe, Cyrille Dubois, Jaël Azzaretti
Erato 9029585175 (2 DVDs)
Mozart was only 14 years old when he spent five months composing this opera based on one of Racine’s great tragedies. So it probably didn’t hurt that Clément Hervieu-Léger, who directed this 2016 production at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, is an actor who has appeared in several Racine roles and knows the playwright’s Mitridate quite well. Hervieu-Léger’s approach to the opera is markedly theatrical, so that each of the 22 arias are filled with life and the da capos interestingly shaped. He’s added several silent characters of his own to the proceedings, and they make complete sense within the psychological context. Some of them are children to whom the protagonists turn during their arias, lending excitement even to the longest pieces and creating gripping scenes that are very close to “real life.” Set designer Eric Ruf has placed the action within an aging building that has all sorts of doors, balconies, and passageways, and could be either a palace or a theater. For the most part, it successfully achieves Racine’s desired Classical unity of place, time, and plot. The soloists are excellent, beginning with Michael Spyres in the title role. Vocally and visually, he brings regal authority to the part; his beautiful, clear tenor has such tremendous charisma that the little problems he sometimes has with high notes are insignificant. Patricia Petibon is an incomparable Aspasia, fragile and passionate at once, and in splendid voice. The castrato role of Sifare is in the best of hands here with soprano Myrtò Papatanasiu, who displays very fluid coloratura. The other castrato role of Sifare’s nasty brother Farnace is assigned to countertenor Christophe Dumaux, whose slightly metallic, not always beautiful voice is well-suited to such a villainous character. Soprano Sabine Devieilhe makes an outstanding impression as Farnace’s long-suffering fiancée Ismene. Emmanuelle Haïm leads the period orchestra Le Concert d’Astrée with unabated enthusiasm for Mozart’s brilliant, unique early work and a drive that makes this opera a “breathtaking listening experience.”

- Schoenberg: Moses und Aron
Conductor: Philippe Jordan
Director: Romeo Castellucci
Cast: Thomas Johannes Mayer, John Graham-Hall
Naxos/BelAir BAC 136 (1 DVD)
Schoenberg’s only opera, which premiered in Hamburg in 1954, isn’t exactly easy listening for the “normal” music lover, so it’s rather astonishing that this production by Romeo Castellucci for the Opéra national de Paris was such a hit with audiences and has now been released on video. A work which was never completed, it deals with two fundamentally different conceptions of God, with Moses believing the Deity can exist as an intellectual abstraction, while Aaron (Aron) thinks It can be grasped in the physical form of an image. The brothers argue the issue heatedly until Moses collapses at the end of the second act with the cry, “Oh Wort, du Wort, das mir fehlt” (Oh word, you word that I lack). This puzzling twelve-tone opus is treated by Castellucci as the collision between abstract ideas and a disordered, grubby world. In the first act, one must look very closely when God speaks to Moses from the thorn bush, as the entire stage is flooded by a white light (suggesting eternity) in which the two protagonists can only be distinguished with effort. The choristers, garbed in white robes, are only perceptible as shadows. A strange high-tech world of white-coated scientists becomes visible when Aron performs miracles and Moses’ staff is transformed into a serpent, which here is represented by a long, complicated machine-monster. When the Israelites are unsettled by Moses’ prolonged absence on Mount Sinai, Aron decides to calm them by reviving their old gods in the form of a golden calf, which they enthusiastically dance around and venerate. Except that here the creature is neither golden nor a calf, but a live, full-grown Charolais bull who tolerates the goings-on around him with great composure. Naked dancers and Schoenberg’s “prickly” music don’t upset him. The Chorus plays a significant role in this opera, and the Opéra’s singers have been superbly prepared for their difficult assignment by José Luis Basso. Thomas Johannes Mayer is a rough, cold Moses obsessed by his vision who performs almost entirely in Sprechgesang, while John Graham-Hall masters the part of Aron with considerable skill and manages to sing well and clearly even when entangled in meters of audio tapes or covered from head to foot in oil or ink. In the booklet accompanying the DVD, conductor Philippe Jordan describes the difficulties of preparing for the performances of this work in numerous rehearsals over the course of an entire year. That preparation is evident in the tremendous playing by the Orchestre de l’Opéra national de Paris under his guidance.

- Pfitzner: Die Rose vom Liebesgarten (The Rose from the Garden of Love)
Conductor: Frank Beermann
Cast: Erin Caves, Astrid Weber, Kouta Rasanen, Andreas Kindschuh, Jana Buchner, Tiina Penttinen, Andre Riemer
cpo 7775002 (3 CDs)
This recording, made following the 2009 production of Pfitzner’s 1901 fairy tale opera at the Chemnitz Opera House, is the first stereo version of the opera to come on the market. Although Die Rose vom Liebesgarten was admired by Mahler and Max Reger, and later was shortened and reworked by conductor Robert Heger, the number of performances sharply declined after World War II. Only with David Pountney’s 1999 Zürich Opera staging and this one 10 years later in Chemnitz did the opera begin to attract attention again. The plot is rather fussy and deals with the hero Siegnot, who is named guardian of the Spring Gate to the Garden of Love, a sort of Germanic Paradise, by the Star Maiden, who is both the goddess of love and ruler of the garden. She gives him a magic rose with which he is to guard the gate and recruit new members for the garden. He subsequently snares and then falls in love with the Elf Queen Minneleide, gives her the rose, and after assorted complications that include her abduction by the Nachtwunderer and his dwarves, the two are finally reunited. (I think the Nachtwunderer – ein Wunder being a wonder or miracle, and ein “Wunderer” by extension probably a wonder-worker – may be a sort of spooky nocturnal magician.) If the protagonists’ names sound Wagnerian, so, too, does Pfitzner’s music, though his use of the brass in the instrumentation shows Mahler’s influence. In that respect, it no doubt helps that Frank Beermann, who conducts the Robert Schumann Philharmonic in this performance, is a genuine Wagner expert who knows how to analyze and precisely unfold Pfitzner’s score. The orchestra is first-rate, with a secure brass section, beautiful winds, and rich-sounding strings; the prologue, which begins with horns that are joined by trombone, trumpet, and harp, provides a good example of Pfitzner’s musical conception. The composer’s extremely complex treatment of the Chorus, such as in the first act finale, is still amazing to modern ears, and Chemnitz’s choristers have been perfectly prepared for their role by Mary Adelyn Kauffman. The soloists, all from the house’s ensemble, are generally top-drawer. The young Heldentenor Erin Caves masters Siegnot’s uncomfortably high tessitura with joy and an ease that reminds one a little of James King. The warm soprano of Astrid Weber in the role of Minneleide offers a wonderful contrast, always sounding beautiful and seamless, and is fully on par with Caves in the demanding duet, “Es schlief die Erde in Wintergewalt.” Bass Kosta Räsänen shows his versatility in his dual roles as the Waffenmeister (weapons master) and Nachtwunderer; Andreas Kindschuh brings an attractive voice to the high baritone part of the Sangesmeister (singing master); tenor André Riemer makes a marvelously frightened Moormann (literally, a man from the marsh or fens); and soprano Jana Büchner and mezzo Tiina Penttinen round out the cast as Schwarzhilde and Rotelse, respectively. The recorded sound is excellent, and paired with the fact that the opera is performed here nearly without cuts, gives this set a clear advantage over Heger’s monaural version.

- Handel: Ottone
Conductor: George Petrou
Cast: Max Emanuel Cencic, Lauren Souffer, Xavier Sabata, Ann Hallenberg, Anna Starushkevych, Pavel Kudinov
Decca 483 1814 (3 CDs)
This opera, which had its world premiere in 1723, is perhaps best remembered in association with a story told by Handel biographer John Mainwaring, according to which the composer threatened to toss prima donna Francesca Cuzzoni out the window if she persisted in refusing to sing the heroine’s entrance aria, “Falsa immagine.” (She wanted something showier.) Although Ottone was a success, aria included, Handel continued to revise it, even rewriting one of Cuzzoni’s scenes three times over the course of the first series of performances, so that she ended up singing four different versions. In this new recording, conductor George Petrou uses many numbers that, at least as far as research could determine, were heard at the world premiere, with two insertions (“Spera si” and “Gode l’alma consolata”) from alternative versions. Coincidence or not, the same arrangement was used by Nicholas McGegan for his performance at the 1992 Göttingen Handel Festival, which is also available on CD. Likewise, Maestro Petrou and the Baroque orchestra Il Pomo d’Oro follow an interpretive style that is similarly both historically based and timelessly beautiful as McGegan’s earlier recording. Only occasionally does Petrou follow the fads currently regarded as appropriate to the period of giving a few chords a strong percussive accent or using unsuitably fast tempos that turn the overture’s gavotte into a polka and rob the intimate duet “Notte cara” of its lightness. There are no minor characters in an opera Handel wrote for an all-star cast, and the soloists here are up to the highest demands of his music. Max Emanuel Cencic shines in the role of the historic German Emperor Otto II with the dark, metallic gleam of his astonishingly voluminous countertenor and impassioned singing, including the three bonus tracks of arias Handel composed for Senesino in the opera’s 1726 revival. Lauren Snouffer, as Otto’s fiancée, the Byzantine Princess Theophanu (Teofane), might well inspire the sort of rapturous acclaim Cuzzoni received at the 1723 premiere; her account of “Falsa immagine” is distinguished by excellent piani and legato, and the manner in which rippling in the melodic flow is completed by ornamentation tied into the musical line. As Ottone’s rival Adelberto, Xavier Sabata displays a very gentle, yet full-voiced and virile-sounding countertenor, while Ann Hallenberg lends a magnificent, opalescent mezzo to Gismonda, Adelberto’s ambitious mother who will stop at nothing to secure the throne for her son. In comparison, Anna Starushkevych, as Adelberto’s fiancée Matilda, is lacking a certain individuality in her timbre. Pavel Kudinov brings a striking, flexible bass to the role of the pirate Emireno, who turns out to be Teofane’s brother, the later Byzantine Emperor Basileios II, in disguise. Many of the soloists also draw favorable notice with their very vivid, but not overdone treatment of the recitatives, adding to the exciting drama and producing what the reviewer calls “entertainment at the highest level” and that’s quite in line with Handel’s thinking.

- Lehár: Der Graf von Luxemburg (The Count of Luxemburg)
Conductor: Eun Sun Kim
Cast: Daniel Behle, Camilla Nylund, Louise Alder, Simon Bode, Sebastian Geyer, Margit Neubauer, Ludwig Mittelhammer, Ingyu Hwang, Gurgen Baveyan
Oehms Classics OC 968 (2 CDs)
In comparison to Die lustige Witwe or Das Land des Lächelns, this work has not been among the most popular of Lehár’s operettas. In fact, this 2015-16 New Year’s production from the Frankfurt Opera marked the first time Der Graf von Luxemburg had ever been performed in that city. Under the baton of Eun Sun Kim, the Frankfurt Opera and Museum Orchestra gives a very brisk and very precise account of Lehár’s score, and if things start off sounding a little fussy, that impression quickly disappears in the skillfully managed dynamic climaxes in the earworm “So liri, liri, lari.” Daniel Behle is an exceptionally musical René who expertly blends his tenor with the luxuriant, round tones of Camilla Nylund’s soprano. As Angèle, she scales back her lyric-dramatic instrument to achieve the required light sound perfectly, and shows why she is currently much in demand in a widely varied repertoire. There are convincing portrayals by Louise Alder, Simon Bode, and Sebastian Geyer, while the veteran Margit Neubauer gives a most charming rendition of the Countess’ declaimed couplet, “Was ist das für ‘ne Zeit, liebe Leute.”

- “Wagner”
Petra Long (soprano)
Conductor/orchestra: Iván Fischer, Budapest Festival Orchestra
Includes the Siegfried Idyll, overture to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and excerpts from Götterdämmerung
Channel Classics 32713 (1 CD) 08034
Mezzo-turned-hochdramatische soprano Petra Lang actually has only one contribution on this disc, Brünnhilde’s Immolation from Götterdämmerung. She shapes her interpretation with admirable expressivity that captures the listener’s attention, and if not every phrase is perfect and not every note flawlessly intoned, this is nonetheless an exciting, theatrical performance. Otherwise, this disc belongs to conductor Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Those who love an opulent orchestral sound with great, gleaming brass and powerful dramatic climaxes will be quite happy with Maestro Fischer and his musicians’ offerings. In the Siegfried Idyll and selections from Götterdämmerung, they display their technical skill; in the overture to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, they give a nuanced reading in which scale-like passages are not flowing, but have each individual note separated from the others with a clear accent.

- Hanna Elisabeth Müller: "Traumgekrönt”
With Juliane Ruf (pianist)
Lieder by Schoenberg, Strauss, and Berg
Belvedere 08034 (1 CD)
The young German soprano’s career has really taken off in the past few months, with debuts at La Scala and the Met. With her new Lieder album, one can hear why. Her (still) lyric voice possesses a striking timbre, soft yet with intense colors and a luminous top; it’s ideal for Strauss, especially since she treats the text carefully without ever abandoning the musical line. Of the 28 songs on this disc, 17 are by Strauss. The other selections include Schoenberg’s Vier Lieder, op. 2, and Berg’s Sieben fruhe Lieder. Together with pianist Juliane Ruf, Müller has developed an exciting program centered on the theme of flowers. She impresses with her rapturous tone and easy top in some pieces, such as Strauss’ “Epheu,” and with fine nuances and shadings in others, among them the Berg and Schoenberg songs. There is very informative accompanying material and a YouTube trailer in which both artists share their thoughts on the program and mention that they performed all of these Lieder several times live before going into the recording studio. A definite recommendation.

- Emanuele D’Aguanno: “Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini”
With Charles Spencer (pianist)
Capriccio C 30050 (1 CD)
The Capriccio label has launched a “Premiere Portraits” series to give selected young singers an opportunity to present themselves to a wider audience. The latest is tenor Emanuele D’Aguanno, who has been appearing on the operatic stage for around 10 years, first in smaller parts and now singing leading roles at the Bavarian State Opera. However, it’s not arias, but 17 art songs by the three major bel canto composers that he sings on this disc. His voice has an easy, radiant top, he masters the coloratura superbly, and his interpretations show stylistic assurance. His tenor also has both fire and intimacy, and one only wishes it had a little more calmness as well. Nor would a bit more courage in shaping these songs be amiss, either.

- Sarah Maria Sun: “modern lied”
With Jan Philipp Schulze (pianist)
Works by Holliger, Scriarrino, Lachenmann, Kurtág, Rihm, and Lang
Mode 297 (1 CD)
When soprano Sarah Maria Sun and Jan Philipp Schulze, a Professor of Lieder at Hannover’s Music University, decided that their next performance program would be “the most difficult program of all time,” they probably achieved their goal with this extremely demanding selection of pieces by modern composers such as Wolfgang Rihm, Salvatore Sciarrino, and Helmut Lachenmann. The reviewer calls this album “a one-hour tour de force through works of the 20th and 21st centuries” that requires the greatest degree of concentration from both artists and listeners. Things begin with the relatively easy-to-understand Sechs Lieder nach Christian Morgenstern by the 18 year-old Heinz Holliger, songs that retained considerable significance for him even during his avant-garde phase. Of the six, “Vöglein Schwermut” is quite appealing. In Sciarrino’s “Occhi stillante,” set to poems by Gianbattista Marino, Sun not only sings, but also uses breathing sounds, difficult coloratura ornamentation, mouth noises, and assorted other sounds. She has to be a “virtuoso mouth percussionist” and sing into the grand piano to make the strings produce sound in Lachenmann’s 25-minute cycle Got lost, with texts by Nietzsche, a poem by Fernando Pessoa, and an announcement concerning a lost laundry basket that was posted in an elevator. Schulze has plenty of unusual things to do at (or with?) the piano to achieve Lachenmann’s objective of creating a “new imaginary instrument” out of voice and piano. In Rihm’s 2012 “Ophelia sings,” a tremendously suggestive piece that remains accessible (and distressing) for all its complexity, the soprano delivers several fragments of spoken text that heighten the total impression of the character’s madness. Bernhard Lang’s 2013 “Wenn die Landschaft aufhört” borrows from both stream-of-consciousness technique and rap influences, with Sun’s interpretation alternating between rhythmic speech and shouting. All in all, this recording isn’t easy fare, but it’s also exceptionally rewarding to hear.

- Giovanni Alberto Ristori: Cantatas for Soprano
With Maria Savastano (soprano) and Jon Olaberria (oboe)
Conductor/orchestra: Johannes Pramsohler, Ensemble Diderot
Audax Records ADX73711 (1 CD)
Winner of the first prize in the 2005 “Neue Stimmen” (New Voices) singing competition sponsored by the Bertelsmann Foundation, the Argentinian soprano Maria Savastano has appeared at the Opéra Bastille as Papagena in Die Zauberflöte and has been expanding her repertoire to include more Mozart and roles in the operas by Donizetti, Monteverdi, and Baroque composers. She’s also a sought-after concert artist, and the way her voice has benefitted from such careful development can be heard in this interesting and well-edited album of three cantatas by Giovanni Alberto Ristori (1692-1573), in which she’s accompanied by the Ensemble Diderot. Her strongly expressive, distinctive voice already possesses dramatic qualities and tonal colors that make one look forward to the further progression of her career. Ristori was a composer, teacher, and musician employed at the Dresden court of the Dukes August II and August III of Saxony, and these three cantatas were written in 1748 for the court’s summer sojourn in Pillnitz.

- Felix Woyrsch: Vier Lieder, Piano Trio/Rubin Goldmark: Piano Trio
Carolina Ullrich (soprano) and the Hyperion Trio
cpo 555122 (1 CD)
The label cpo has established its reputation as a specialist in rarities, and this new CD by Chilean soprano Carolina Ullrich and the Hyperion Trio offers plenty that’s unfamiliar – not only the compositions, but the composers themselves. Felix Woyrsch (1860-1944) was a Sudeten-Silesian employed as a “musical expert” by the government of Altona when it was an independent city. Rubin Goldmark (1872-1936, a nephew of the noted composer Karl Goldmark, is best remembered as the teacher of George Gershwin and Aaron Copland. In Woyrsch’s Four Songs, set to verses by Heinrich Heine and Nicolaus Lenau, the singer is accompanied by a cello or violin as well as piano. Ullrich makes the most of their deeply romantic sound, filling her clear, silvery voice with exactly the right amount of sentiment to emphasize the fragile beauty of these pieces. The Hyperion Trio, who partners her in these Lieder, is also heard on this disc in the Piano Trio (op. 65) that Woyrsch composed at a much later date, and in Goldmark’s Piano Trio (op. 1). Both chamber music works are in the spirit of the German Late Romantic style and receive competent interpretations here.

- Samuel Barber: The Lovers/Randall Thompson: Frostiana
Landesjugendchor Sachsen, with Martin Hässler (baritone)
Jugendsymphonieorchester Leipzig; conductor Ron-Dirk Entleutner
Rondeau Productions 6138 (1 CD)
Youth ensembles can often attain a professional level that enables them to master even demanding symphonic works, and the two groups featured on this disc of works by Samuel Barber and Randall Thompson – the Youth Choir of the Province of Saxony and the Leipzig Youth Symphony Orchestra – are an example. Thompson is probably familiar to American classical music enthusiasts, but much less so outside North America, where he’s known primarily as the teacher of Barber and Leonard Bernstein. He’s represented here by Frostiana, a cycle of seven songs set to poems by Robert Frost that has a very simple, catchy style. Clearly more modern and expressive is Barber’s vocal symphonic composition for baritone, chorus, and orchestra titled The Lovers, set to love poems by Pablo Neruda. Martin Hässler sings the solo part with an attractive voice, while Ron-Dirk Entleutner leads a convincing performance by the two ensembles.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Verdi: Macbeth
Conductor: James Conlon
Director: Darko Tresnjak
Cast: Plácido Domingo, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, Joshua Guerrero, Josh Wheeler, Summer Hassan, Theo Hoffmann, Liv Redpath, Isaiah Morgan
Sony 88985403579 (1 DVD)
Nearly three decades had elapsed between the Los Angeles Opera’s previous staging of Macbeth and this 2016 production, yet both featured the same artist in leading roles. In the earlier one, Plácido Domingo was heard in the tenor role of Macduff alongside Justino Diaz and Grace Bumbry as the Macbeths; now he sings the baritone title role. His Macbeth is a deeply driven man who is pulled down into an emotional/spiritual abyss by a whirlpool of fear and uncertainty, while his wife strategically orders murders without batting an eyelash. Domingo enacts the dark role capably and with all the theatrical experience of his five-decade long career. Nonetheless, his voice sounds too light and good for such a complex, fateful character, and seldom reflects Macbeth’s inner being. His best moments are the third act encounter with the witches as well as the introspective aria, “Pietà, rispetto, amore,” along with a short aria from the opera’s 1847 Urfassung, “Mal per me che m’affidai,” when Macbeth dies on the open stage. The reviewer calls Ekaterina Semenchuk’s Lady Macbeth “the Devil in person,” and she acts together with Domingo like a seasoned team. Her mezzo is in excellent condition, especially its round, clear, voluminous top that she uses to great effect in attacks. However, it’s also plainly audible that her predominantly heavy voice doesn’t have an easy time of it in the runs and coloratura, and her portrayal could have used more in the way of tonal colors, which finally open up in the sleepwalking scene. Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, in Banquo’s brief appearances, sings his opening duet and the aria, “Come dal ciel precipita,” flawlessly, while Joshua Guerrero makes a convincing Macduff with his fresh-sounding tenor and solid upper register, though one wishes he had the suppleness of Joshua Wheeler in the smaller role of Malcolm. There is a thumbs-up for the Los Angeles Opera Chorus prepared by Grat Gershon. The company’s Music Director, James Conlon, conducts Verdi’s opera with sensitivity, flexibility, and a welcome portion of understatement. The orchestra always has a presence, yet never steals the show from those onstage. The musicians are in their best form when they emphasize the soft notes in the otherwise martial-sounding score. Four-time Tony Award winner Darko Tresnjak (who also designed the sets with Colin McGurk) was making his debut as an opera director with this production. He treats the three witches – who look like a cross between women and rats – as an additional principal alongside Macbeth and his Lady, and it’s they who are really controlling all of the action. The functional, minimalist sets are atmospherically illuminated by lighting director Matthew Richards, and there are attractive, historically-inspired costumes by Suttirat Anne Larlarb.

- Wagner: Parsifal
Conductor: Sir Mark Elder
Cast: Lars Cleveman, Katarina Dalayman, Sir John Tomlinson, Detlef Roth, Tom Fox, Reinhard Hagen, Robert Murray, Andrew Greenan, Sarah Castle, Madeleine Shaw, Joshua Ellicott, Andrew Rees, Elizabeth Cragg, Anita Watson, Ana James, Anna Devin
Hallé Elder Wagner Series CDHLD7539 (4 CDs)
All that’s keeping this concert performance recording from the 2013 BBC Proms from receiving a recommendation is, unfortunately, the Gurnemanz of veteran Heldenbariton Sir John Tomlinson. Admittedly, he was replacing the originally scheduled soloist in the part, and those present in Royal Albert Hall experienced a memorable portrayal – memorable in the positive sense. But when one isn’t actually present at the live performance and has only the audio document to rely upon, the singer’s vocal problems become apparent. The intonation on too many notes is flawed, and even the “phenomenal” treatment of the text by this wise artist is unable to sufficiently compensate. Lars Cleveman in the title role makes a far more favorable impression, especially in the second act duet with Katarina Dalayman’s Kundry. The soprano sounds concentrated and successfully attains significant purity of tone. Detlef Roth is a very cultured and cultivated Amfortas, without any insecurity in his powerfully expressive baritone, and both Tom Fox (Klingsor) and Reinhard Hagen (Titurel) give strong characterizations while holding completely to the musical line. There is “extremely delicate” playing by the outstanding Hallé Orchestra under the “inspiring” leadership of Sir Mark Elder.

- Elisabet Strid: “Leuchtende Liebe”
Conductor/orchestra: Ivan Anguélov, Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Arias and scenes from Tannhäuser, Der fliegende Holländer, Lohengrin, Tristan und Isolde, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Die Feen, and Fidelio
Oehms Classics 1882 (1 CD)
This Swedish soprano is making a name for herself in the lyric-dramatic Fach with appearances in Leipzig, Düsseldorf, Budapest, and Helsinki, and her debut at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in the role of Sieglinde is coming up this autumn. On this new album, she presents herself as Wagner’s Senta, Elisabeth, Isolde, Sieglinde, Elsa, Brünnhilde, and Ada, and Beethoven’s Leonore, and in each role, shows a fine sense for the emotions of the figure and the situation. Nonetheless, one can’t be entirely happy with her performance from a technical standpoint; her voice is too often forced and uneven, and there could be improvements in legato and intonation. She is accompanied by the Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Ivan Anguélov.

- Kate Lindsey: “Thousands of Miles”
With Baptiste Trotignon (pianist)
Lieder by Korngold, Alma Mahler, and Zemlinsky; songs and excerpts from operas by Kurt Weill
Alpha ALPHA272 (1 CD)
The American mezzo came up with an interesting program idea for this disc on which she sings the music of German-speaking Jewish composers who immigrated to the U.S. to escape the Nazis. The largest number of songs here – 14 – are by Kurt Weill, while Alma Mahler, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and Alexander Zemlinsky are represented by two songs each. It’s admirable the way Lindsey is able to get inside the pieces’ characters and the times. In the Weill songs, which are often quite brash and cheeky and occasionally even “refreshingly vulgar,” one almost imagines it’s Marlene Dietrich singing. Lindsey’s German is idiomatic, her American English broad and (naturally) authentic, and in Weill’s “Je ne t’aime pas,” she surprises the listener with genuine French flair. Her partner on this CD, Baptiste Trotignon, finds Weill’s piano accompaniments frequently too unvaried – “not very interesting,” in his words – so he’s reworked them and given them a jazzier flavor. Not everyone will regard the changes as an improvement, however. The selection of the songs, not all of which were composed in exile, is also questionable. For example, the quite mediocre Alma Mahler’s ambitious setting of poems by Novalis (née Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg) doesn’t fit at all with the Weill pieces.

“Richard Wagner: Liebeserklärung”
Maria Bulgakova (soprano), Andrej Hoteev (pianist)
Sonata for Mathilde Wesendonk's Album; Schlaflos - music letter for piano in G major to Mathilde Wesendonck; Wesendonck-Lieder; Elegy in A flat; Der Tannenbaum, WWV 50; Dors, mon enfant, WWV 53; L'attente, WWV 55; Mignonne, allons voir si la rose, WWV 57
Hänssler Classics/Naxos HC 16058 (1 CD)
This magazine’s reviewer doesn’t have as harsh an opinion of this recording as did his counterpart at Opernwelt. Most of his comments actually deal with the 70 year-old Andrej Hoteev, who has been known for many years for planning unusual, often clever programs. This album, with a title that can be translated as “declaration of love,” is comprised of works Wagner dedicated to his wife Cosima or his “Muse,” Mathilde Wesendonck. Besides the original version of the Wesendonck Lieder, the disc includes (among others) the Vier weisse Lieder (Four White Songs) written for Cosima and the Wesendonck Piano Sonata. Many of these pieces have an intimate mood, often with a pining, dark tonal language, and are anything but carefree or especially happy declarations of love. Hoteev, who is also the publisher of the score for the “White Songs,” plays masterfully on the concert grand of the Bayreuth piano manufacturer Steingraeber & Söhne. Maria Bulgakova makes effective use of her dark soprano in spite of technical and interpretive weaknesses (intonation problems, pressure in the upper register).

COLLECTIONS

- “The Gundula Janowitz Edition”
Deutsche Grammophon 4797348 (14 CDs)
Next month, the great soprano will celebrate her 80th birthday, and Deutsche Grammophon is marking the occasion with this box set, which (as I mentioned in another thread) appears to contain every scrap she ever recorded for this label. Her voice had an unmistakable timbre, incomparably captivating in the pure beauty of its silvery shimmering, ethereally floating quality. This set includes excerpts from complete opera recordings she made for DG, among them Carlos Kleiber’s Der Freischütz, Kubelik’s Lohengrin, and Böhm’s Le Nozze di Figaro and Capriccio, which should all be part of anyone’s opera collection. Along with them are such varied selections as four minutes from Beethoven’s Incidental Music to Egmont, two minutes from Mendelssohn’s oratorio Paulus, and a pair of two-minute segments from Carmina Burana. Her nearly “incorporeal” soprano still fascinates listeners today with its metallic purity and technical security, and especially because it provides an authentic look at these pieces that’s free of any mannerisms. What makes the acquisition of this set particularly worthwhile are the “gems” outside the well-known recordings – for example, a live performance from London of Strauss’ Vier letzte Lieder under Haitink, which makes an interesting contrast to the familiar Karajan version, or Telemann’s cantata Ino, in which Janowitz demonstrates that her voice also functioned wonderfully in the Baroque repertoire. Another discovery is her Adriano in Wagner’s Rienzi under Ferdinand Leitner. An absolute pleasure to listen to are the three CDs containing Schubert Lieder she performed with the pianist Irwin Gage, still touching, timeless interpretations in which she refrains from using any effects that are not to be found in the score. This is pure Schubert in the best sense, with a textual clarity that’s no less exemplary. The only fly in the ointment here is the audio bonus material, which consists solely of a six-minute interview from 1969 in which the soprano discusses her foundation that supports young singers and shares her thoughts on Mozart’s Contessa.

- “The Inaugural Season – Extraordinary Met Performances From 1966-67”
Conductors: Thomas Schippers, Zubin Mehta, Karl Böhm, Richard Bonynge, Sir Colin Davis, Josef Krips, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, Lamberto Gardelli, Fausto Cleva, and Georges Prêtre
Includes complete recordings of Antony and Cleopatra, Turandot, Die Frau ohne Schatten, Lucia di Lammermoor, Peter Grimes, Aida, Die Zauberflöte, Otello, Madama Butterfly, and Rigoletto; highlights from Don Giovanni, La Gioconda, Lohengrin, La Bohème, La Traviata, Il Trovatore, Elektra, and Mourning Becomes Electra
Warner 811357018224 (22 CDs)
The Met’s first season in the new house at Lincoln Center offered nine new productions, four of them within the first eight days. In addition to the gala opening with the world premiere of Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra that starred Leontyne Price, there was La Gioconda with Renata Tebaldi, La Traviata with Anna Moffo, and Die Frau ohne Schatten conducted by Karl Böhm. Later in the season came Elektra with Birgit Nilsson, Lohengrin with Sandor Konya, Peter Grimes with Jon Vickers, Die Zauberflöte featuring Marc Chagall’s sets, and the world premiere of Marvin David Levy’s Mourning Becomes Electra with Zubin Mehta on the podium. Warner’s 22-CD box includes 10 selected recordings of the complete Saturday afternoon matinée radio broadcasts from the inaugural season along with excerpts from repertoire productions staged in that period. Among the former are the Turandot that featured the “battle of the giants” between Nilsson and Franco Corelli, and Lucia di Lammermoor with Dame Joan Sutherland’s heroine. Her Edgardo was the “American Caruso” Richard Tucker, with a powerful voice the likes of which were seldom heard in this repertoire 50 years ago, and today probably not at all. The look back over half a century shows how timeless much of this is, or perhaps how timeless one wishes it were. It also illustrates how not only singing styles, but listeners’ perceptions can develop. The premiere of Die Frau ohne Schatten, with Leonie Rysanek’s Empress and Christa Ludwig’s Dyer’s Wife, was an unexpected success, the effects of which were seen in the growing popularity of this opera and recognition of it as a significant work. However, one is surprised by the unusually large number of cuts made to the score, a practice of the time intended to give the soloists a “breather” (so to speak), but which detracts from relaxed, enjoyable listening. Since then, many interpretive styles have also dramatically changed; James King in his parade role as the Emperor sounds the most convincing. Over-pronunciation, as heard in Montserrat Caballé’s Desdemona in Verdi’s Otello, was probably the result of a taste that had been handed down from earlier decades, but has since gone by the wayside. (She’s partnered by James McCracken, the leading Otello of the time.) It was a wise decision to limit Renata Tebaldi’s “knife-sharp” Gioconda to excerpts rather than a complete performance, as this audio document can hardly convey the historic significance of the famous name to listeners from later generations. This set does confirm the tremendous quality of the Met’s roster at mid-century. There is a starry Aida with Thomas Schippers conducting Price, Grace Bumbry, and Carlo Bergonzi; Rigoletto with Cornell MacNeil, Roberta Peters, and Nicolai Gedda; Madama Butterfly with Renata Scotto’s Cio-Cio-San; and regrettably only excerpts from a Lohengrin with Böhm on the podium and a cast including Konya, Ingrid Björner, Ludwig, Walter Berry, John Macurdy, and the young Sherrill Milnes. Perhaps the most exciting part of this collection is a “beautiful historical document” on the excerpts CD that isn’t even sung: the original radio program of the opening night gala, with Rudolf Bing himself conducting backstage interviews with the stars. One hears Leontyne Price’s honest enthusiasm at the thought that residents of her hometown of Laurel, Mississippi, could experience the event through the live broadcast. The young Justino Diaz, winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, confesses he would have laughed had anyone told him he’d be singing a leading role in such an important performance – to which Bing dryly responds, “I also.”

CROSSOVER

- Jay Alexander: “Schön ist die Welt”
With Marlis Petersen (soprano)
Conductor/orchestra: Adrian Werum, Orchester der Kulturen
Operetta excerpts and mid-20th century film songs
I’ve placed this recording in the crossover category primarily because the tenor Jay Alexander is best known as a performer of popular music styles. The selections on this CD come not only from operettas, but also from musicals and “Heimat” (home or homeland) films popular in the German-speaking countries from the 1930s through the 1950s. Among the tunes from the latter are pieces that audiences were familiar with and loved, including operetta excerpts, that were composed earlier and then used in some of the films. Alexander’s lyric tenor has a gentle, distinctive timbre well-suited to selections such as “Be My Love” or “Lippen schweigen.” In comparison to leading operatic tenors, the strain in his upper register is perceptible and he has a rather limited palette of tonal colors. Still, his charming voice invites listening. He’s joined in duets from Die lustige Witwe and Die Czárdásfürstin by no less an opera star than soprano Marlis Petersen, and receives capable support from the Orchester der Kulturen (Orchestra of the Cultures) conducted by Adrian Werum.

MAuer
July 31st, 2017, 05:22 PM
Summary of reviews from the August, 2017, issue of Opernwelt (http://www.opernwelt.de/):

RECOMMENDED

- Wagner: Das Liebesverbot
Conductor: Ivor Bolton
Director: Kaspar Holten
Cast: Manuela Uhl, Peter Lodahl, Christopher Maltman, Ilker Arcayürek, Ante Jerkunica, Francisco Vas, David Allegret, David Jerusalem, Maria Miró, Isaac Galán, Maria Hinojosa
Opus Arte OA 1191 D (1 DVD)
This may be one of those cases where the quality of the musical performance and production exceed that of the opera itself. Wagner’s early work based on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure has never made it into the standard repertoire, despite occasional efforts to revive it, and at least one of the reasons may be the demands the composer places on the leading soprano and tenor. The role of Isabella frequently climbs into stratospheric heights and requires a combination of Brünnhilde power and bel canto agility, while the part of Lucio is a mixture of “heroic youth mania” and easy, smooth-flowing lyricism. Manuela Uhl and Peter Lodahl rise to the nearly impossible challenge with bravura nonchalance. With his sonorous baritone, Christopher Maltman delivers his own stellar portrayal of the villainous, hypocritical governor Friedrich. The Chorus of Madrid’s Teatro Real, prepared by Andrés Máspero, is in splendid form, and Ivor Bolton draws a truly rousing account of Wagner’s score from the Teatro Real’s orchestra, throwing himself with what the reviewer calls “diabolical joy” into the whole “seething” mess. Director Kaspar Holten and set/costume designer Steffen Aarfing have created a neon-colored, parodic spectacle worthy of a West End show, complete with gymnast nuns, cell phone duets, and a Queen Angela (Merkel), who appears at the end to call everyone to order with her stern, silent looks. Video director János Darvas often uses close-ups to capture the chaotic, zany goings-on. There’s nothing subtle about the production team’s approach, but for the most part, it works.

- Mozart: Mitridate, rè di Ponto
Conductor: Emmanuelle Haïm
Cast: Michael Spyres, Patricia Petibon, Myrtò Papatanasiu, Christophe Dumaux, Sabine Devieilhe, Cyrille Dubois, Jaël Azzaretti
Erato 0190295851750 (2 CDs)
This is the audio-only recording of Clément Hervieu-Léger’s 2016 production of Mozart’s early opera at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, the DVD version of which was reviewed in an earlier issue of Das Opernglas. With few exceptions, it offers a top-notch group of soloists, with Sabine Devieilhe’s Ismene the best among them. Her limpid, glowing soprano flows easily through coloratura passages, and she brings a lyric and dramatic energy to the part that conveys a fitting expression in every moment. Patricia Petibon (Aspasia) and Myrtò Papatanasiu (Sifare) impress with their fluid sopranos that manage even the most intense, impassioned moments without strain; their fire is always under control, and the lovers’ pining is more inward than directed outward. In contrast, the Marzio of Cyrille Dubois has an almost cutting resolve, though this suits the character. Countertenor Christophe Dumaux’s Farnace combines lucidity and powerful characterization. As Mitridate, tenor Michael Spyres is initially quite restrained, to the point of being downright slow and ponderous before he increasingly attains a grand stature. That could be a deficit were it not for Emmanuelle Haïm and her HIP orchestra Le Concert d’Astrée. The verve and vitality with which she leads her musicians elicits springy, stylish playing from the ensemble that displays a suitably lively pulse throughout the performance.

- Martinů: The Greek Passion
Conductor: Dirk Kaftan
Cast: Rolf Romei, Dshamilja Kaiser, Manuel von Senden, Martin Fournier, Wilfried Zelinka, Ivan Orešcanin, Dietmar Hirzberger, Falk Witzurke, Tino Sekay, Taylan Reinhard, Dariusz Perczak, Tatjana Miyus, Richard Friedemann Jähnig, Sanggyoul Lee, Christian Scherler, Markus Butter, Sofía Mara, Yuan Zhang, Konstantin Sfiris, David McShane
Oehms Classics OC967 (2 CDs)
There are currently three (more or less) complete recordings of Martinů’s 1961 opera about refugees in post-World War I Greece available, including the DVD with Sir Charles Mackerras’ abridged interpretation. This newest version, a live 2016 performance from the Graz Opera, is fully on par with the more prominent production. Orchestra and Chorus impress with their presence and vividness, while the three leading roles have been “extremely well cast” with Dshamilja Kaiser (Katerina), Rolf Romei (Manolios), and Wilfried Zelinka (Grigorios). As in the opera’s original version, the text is sung in English. Martinů’s score contains references to Greek folksongs, church bells, accordion music, and a cappella Orthodox chorales, while the composer seldom denies his own nationality. There are “countless” paraphrases of his own mid-century works, with the music’s course repeatedly culminating in the Moravian cadence typical of his style. The reviewer believes Martinů’s compositions deserve to be performed as often as those by Bartok or Janáček, and this recording, with its “first class” sound quality, is a step in the right direction.

- Ravel: L’enfant et les sortilèges; Ma mère l’oye; 5 pièces enfantine
Conductor: Stéphane Denève
Cast: Camille Poul, Annick Massis, Marie Karall, Marc Barrard, Paul Gay, Julie Pasturaud, François Piolino, Mailys de Villoutreys
SWR Music SWR19033 (1 CD)
This is one of two outstanding new recordings of Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, described by the reviewer as a work “full of imagination, rich in crazy turns of events, with enchanting music.” Stéphane Denève leads the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra in a reading filled with shimmering tones and a wide range of colors that captures the “magic of oblivion, the dreamlike, (and) the incredible sensuality in the lightly floating” score. Among the soloists, Camille Poul brings lyrical intimacy to the Child, while baritone Marc Barrard is charmingly persuasive as the Cat and the Clock. In her multiple roles as the Fire, the Princess, and the Nightingale, soprano Annick Massis sings well, if in a reserved, Impressionistic manner and with a timbre that’s a touch monochromatic. Marie Karall lends a deep, dark mezzo to the parts of the Mother, Chinese Cup, and Dragonfly. The SWR (Südwest Rundfunk) Vokalensemble Stuttgart and Cantus Juvenum Karlsruhe give an appropriately ethereal, mysterious quality to the proceedings.

- Pauline Viardot: German Lieder
Miriam Alexandra (soprano) and Eric Schneider (pianist)
Oehms Classics OC1878 (1 CD)
The Greco-German soprano Miriam Alexandra’s album devoted to Pauline Viardot’s art songs set to German texts has been chosen as the August issue’s CD of the Month. The composer’s French songs have been available on disc in a variety of recital programs, but her German Lieder have remained largely unknown. Alexandra, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on Viardot three years ago and has edited her art songs for Breitkopf and Härtel, the world’s oldest music publishers, has selected 27 pieces for this CD, eight of which have never previously been recorded. The soprano has focused on the period from 1863 to 1871, when Viardot had retired from the operatic stage and was living in Baden Baden, where she a led a salon that drew luminaries from the cultural scene and politics. For those matinées, she wrote songs and short Singspiele. Primary interest in Alexandra’s album will likely focus on Viardot’s settings of eight poems by Eduard Mörike with which the program begins, and which were subsequently used by Hugo Wolf for one of his Lied cycles. Viardot found her own personal access to Mörike’s often unwieldy verses, deeply probing the text and capturing in her music what is contained between the lines. In “Mein Fluss,” the sensuality experienced by the “lyrical Ego” (as the reviewer terms it) during the morning bath in the river becomes almost palpable, as does the presentiment of springtime in the piano accompaniment to “Er ist’s.” The abandoned young lady in “Das verlassene Mägdlein” is extremely distressed only temporarily, which the reviewer seems to regard as a rather French point of view. In any event, Mörike was impressed when Viardot visited him with her friend Ivan Turgenev and performed some of these songs for him. She wrote her settings of Ludwig Uhland’s Die Kapelle on a commission from Schumann as a supplement to the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (New Journal for Music), and employed yodeling vocalises as an expression of the shepherd boy’s joie de vivre. The recurring depictions of nature – flowering plants, bird song – were conveyed by the Impressionistic accompaniment. If Viardot’s later French songs are characterized by a pleasant salon style, these German Lieder find her at the height of her artistry. Though she followed in the tradition of Schubert, she certainly took notice of the stylistic innovations represented by Liszt, Berlioz, and Wagner, with each of whom she was well acquainted and for whom she had sung. She doesn’t rely on the charm of melodic ideas in her songs, but makes bold use of harmony and rhythm, an unusual repetition of verses, and a living narrative and characterization in the accompaniment to explore the psychological depths of the texts. When one listens to this album, it becomes clear that Viardot was no singer dabbling in composition, but a serious, independent creative talent whose genius was recognized by Liszt. Miriam Alexandra is a knowledgeable, eloquent interpreter of this material with a keen sense for the nuances in words and music. Her light lyric soprano, with its warm, delicate midrange and “jubilant” top, seems predestined for roles such as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. At the keyboard, pianist Eric Schneider breaths and “sings” with her and displays a compelling imaginative power of his own.

- Olga Peretyatko: “Russian Light”
Conductor/orchestra: Dmitry Liss, Ural Philharmonic Orchestra
Arias and songs by Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff, Glinka, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky
Sony 88985352232 (1 CD)
Aside from Marfa in Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tsar’s Bride, Olga Peretyatko’s repertoire has consisted primarily of Italian roles. Her new album, however, is devoted to the music of her Russian homeland, and part of its appeal is the opportunity to hear these arias sung in her light, effortlessly produced voice schooled in bel canto coloratura and minus the hardness that often characterizes Slavic singers. Her program begins with Lyudmila’s cavatina from Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila, where her upper register often sounds somewhat shrill, but her clear timbre and cool, almost passive expression are ideal for the selections from Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden, Sadko, The Tsar’s Bride, and The Golden Cockerel. With her flawless intonation and virtuosic coloratura technique, she masters the often uncomfortable writing in these arias. One has to reach back more than a century, to Antonina Neshdanova’s 1910 recording, to hear a comparably idiomatic performance of the Tsaritsa of Shemakha’s Hymn to the Sun from The Golden Cockerel. Rimsky-Korsakov’s stratospheric coloratura was also the model for the Nightingale’s Song from Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol, and Peretyatko delivers the “breathtaking” leaps with “stabbing” clarity. She brings a similar instrumental, almost emotionless vocal production to the glissandi in Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. That she’s also capable of glowing, rapturous lyricism is demonstrated in her interpretation of an excerpt from Shostakovich’s Late Romantic comic opera Moscow, Cheryomushki. All in all, this is a convincing and often simply overwhelming performance in which she’s competently partnered by conductor Dmitry Liss and the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra.

- Benedetto Marcello: “Conserva me, Domine”
Terry Wey (countertenor), Margit Übellacker (salterio)
Conductor/orchestra: Jürgen Bamholzer, La Gioia Armonica
Sacred music of the 18th century by Benedetto Marcello, Melchiorre Chiesa, Giovanni Battista Martini, and Antonio Sacchini
cpo 555 033-2 (1 CD)
Terry Wey has belonged to the world’s leading countertenors for several years, but only recently has released his own solo recordings. In addition to the CD devoted to arias sung by the noted castrato Antonio Maria Bernacchi is this disc of 18th century Italian sacred works, in which two “fabulous” Psalm settings by Benedetto Marcello form the centerpiece. Wey’s voice is settled somewhere between the soprano and alto ranges, and sounds balanced and round throughout. The singer knows how to use his instrument very expressively, and he is supported by the engaged playing of the ensemble La Gioia Armonica, conducted by co-founder and organist Jürgen Bamholzer, and co-founder Margit Übellacker on the salterio, a variety of dulcimer that also functions impressively here as a solo instrument.

- “Wanted – Songs of Kurt Weill”
Dagmar Pecková (mezzo soprano), Jiří Hajek (baritone)
Conductor/orchestras: Jan Kučera; Epoque Quartet and Orchestra, Miroslav Hloucal Jazz Band
Supraphon/Note1 SU 4226-2 (1 CD)
The Czech mezzo Dagmar Pecková was fascinated by Weill’s music when she sang Jenny in Ruth Berghaus’ production of The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at the Stuttgart Opera 25 years ago. Afterward, she had no further opportunities to perform Weill’s works until hearing a radio broadcast about him and the writer Bertolt Brecht prompted her to undertake a systematic study of his songs. Besides the authentic recordings by Lotte Lenya, Pecková was most strongly influenced by the performance style of Teresa Stratas. These two models can definitely be recognized in her new Weill album, yet she still finds her own personal sound that skillfully balances the opera diva and the diseuse. When appropriate, she doesn’t shy away from pathos and sentimentality. The “tangy appeal” of her mezzo and characterful interpretations counteract the danger of becoming maudlin in the tango song “Youkali” from the Singspiel Maria Galante or the chanson “Je ne t’aime pas.” In the “Abschiedsbrief” (farewell letter) originally written for Marlene Dietrich, Pecková carefully builds up tension until the initially feigned indifference finally erupts at the end in explosive vulgarity. Her renditions of the two popular numbers from The Threepenny Opera – “Seeräuber Jenny” and the “Mortitat von Mackie Messer” – are free of both affectation and routine, as is her delivery of “Surabaya Jonny” from Happy End. She is competently partnered in several numbers by baritone Jiří Hajek, and has an ideal collaborator on this album in the composer, conductor, and pianist Jan Kučera, who also appears as a vocalist in the “Kanonensong.” With the classically-oriented Epoque Quartet and Orchestra along with the Miroslav Hloucal Jazz Band, he elicits a sparkling, swinging sound.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Verdi: Otello
Conductor: Christian Thielemann
Director: Vincent Boussard
Cast: José Cura, Dorothea Röschmann, Carlos Álvarez, Benjamin Bernheim, Christa Mayer, Georg Zeppenfeld, Bror Magnus Tødenes, Csaba Szegedi
Unitel/Major 740008 (1 DVD)
That this production from the 2016 Salzburg Easter Festival has some touching moments is due less to director Vincent Boussard than to the soloists and especially conductor Christian Thielemann and the sometimes captivating playing of the Staatskapelle Dresden. As always with Boussard and his set/costume designer Christian Lacroix, everything is chic and exquisite, with the choristers dressed in opulent, historically inspired attire. However, the business with the gigantic, inflated handkerchief that unfurls at the beginning of the storm scene remains merely decorative and doesn’t come across well in the small format of a video disc. The singers are more or less left to fend for themselves, with the powerful, nuanced Iago of Carlos Álvarez as an intellectual manipulator the best among them. José Cura is a vocally and dramatically mild Otello, while Dorothea Röschmann makes a disappointing Desdemona, constantly forcing her soprano in the upper register. Tiziano Mancini’s video direction does capture small gestures and facial expressions during the interactions between Otello and Iago that probably escaped many audience members in the Grosses Festspielhaus. Thielemann emphasizes the dark, melancholy colors in Verdi’s score, and his interpretation of the fourth act is “magnificent.” What he lacks, according to the reviewer, is the “dramatic fire” of a Carlos Kleiber.

- Rimsky-Korsakov: The Golden Cockerel
Conductor: Valery Gergiev
Director: Anna Matison
Cast: Vladimir Feliauer, Andrej Ilyushnikov, Aida Garifullina, Vladislav Sulimsky, Andrei Popov, Andrei Serov, Elena Vitman, Kira Loginova
Mariinsky MAR0596 (DVD/Blu-ray)
There is little left of the political satire in Rimsky-Korsakov’s early 20th century opera to be found in Anna Matison’s 2014 production at the Mariinsky Theater (in addition to serving as stage and video director, she also designed the sets and costumes). She’s reduced the enigmatic yet nonetheless unambiguous work to a colorful, trendy children’s fairy tale whose entertaining toy world sails close to the edge of kitsch. Tsar Dodon is a mild-mannered oaf, the titular golden cockerel a cheeky brat preoccupied with her smartphone, and the Tsaritsa of Shemakha a blonde bombshell in a little red dress who lounges in a hammock. Aida Garifullina sings the Empress magnificently and isn’t fazed by Rimsky-Korsakov’s difficult writing. As a character, however, this Tsaritsa with her perpetual smile is lacking in mystery and magic. The sadistic game invented by Matison in which the foreign ruler involves the melancholy, inhibited General Polkan – brilliantly portrayed by Andrei Serov – is enlivening, even if it has nothing to do with the plot. Under the baton of Valery Gergiev, the musical performance is generally at a high level. However, he also favors a clear-cut reading, in comparison to the 1962 Russian studio recording reviewed in this issue. (The summary appears with the historic recordings.)

- Verdi: Oberto
Conductor: Markus Bosch
Cast: Woong-Joo Choi, Anna Princeva, Katarina Hebelkova, Adrian Dumitru, Daniela Banasova
Coviello Classics COV91702 (2 CDs)
Were this opera’s composer not named Verdi, it’s likely few people would be familiar with it. From time to time, as in the Act I trio and the Act II quartet, one glimpses the talent the then-26 year-old would later manifest. In general, though, this “dramaturgically awkward” work falls far behind not only Donizetti’s later operas, but the reform operas of Verdi’s contemporary Saverio Mercadante as well. Markus Bosch, who conducts this live performance from the 2016 Heidenheim Opera Festival, doesn’t seem to have much faith in the piece, either, to judge from the way he’s shortened many cabalettas and his crude slashing of the two finales that throws them out of proportion. Even the fresh playing of the Cappella Aquileia isn’t sufficient to compensate for this recording’s deficits. Among the four principals, only Katarina Hebelkova (Cuniza) with her warm mezzo offers a vocally and dramatically convincing portrayal. As Leonora, Anna Princeva has difficulties with the coloratura, and the two gentleman – Woong-Joo Choi (Oberto) and Adrian Dumitru (Riccardo) sound colorless and do nothing to give their characters any contour. Those who want to become acquainted with this opera should opt for the older Orfeo recording with Lamberto Gardelli conducting and Carlo Bergonzi singing Riccardo.

- Debussy: L’enfant prodigue/Ravel: L’enfant et les sortilèges
Also includes the finale of Debussy’s Symphony in B-Minor, orchestrated by Colin Matthews
Conductor: Mikko Franck
Cast: Roberto Alagna, Karina Gauvin, Jean-François Lapointe (Debussy); Chloé Briot, Nathalie Stutzmann, Sabine Devieilhe, Jodie Devos, Jean-François Lapointe, Nicolas Courjal, Julie Pasturaud
Erato 9029589692 (2 CDs)
What’s keeping this recording from inclusion in the Recommended category is the performance of Debussy’s L’enfant prodigue. Otherwise, the Ravel opera is up to the same high standard as the Stuttgart version under Stéphane Denève. Mikko Franck’s account with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France is as distinguished and authentic as Denève’s. Sabine Devieilhe is superlative as a sparkling Fire with her “lucid” coloratura, a radiant Princess, and an enchanting Nightingale. Chloé Briot’s Child, Jean-François Lapointe’s Cat and Clock, and Nathalie Stutzmann’s Mother, Chinese Cup, and Dragonfly are all on a par with their Stuttgart counterparts. The German choristers have a very slight advantage over those from Radio France, but that’s really a trifling consideration. Then there’s the Debussy . . . Maestro Franck’s interpretation of this piece never attains the stature of his Ravel – and can’t, based on the quality (or lack thereof) of the work alone. Though awarded the Prix de Rome, Debussy’s early effort, which he later freshened as a “Drame lyrique en un acte,” seldom evinces any subtlety in the instrumentation. His own distinctive tonal language exists only in rudimentary form and is still in the shadow of Gounod and Delibes. The former is the inspiration for the most beautiful number, the duet “Rouver les yeux à la lumière,” in which Karina Gauvin (Lia) and Roberto Alagna (Azael) finally produce rapturous, blazing declamation. In the arias, Gauvin’s soprano sounds somewhat “glassy,” with a touch too much vibrato, while Alagna’s tenor is extremely strained, especially in the upper register.

- Handel: Nine German Arias (HWV 202-210); Schmelzer: Fechtschule
Fritz Spengler (countertenor), Christian Voss (Baroque violin, viola d’amore), Ensemble ContraPunct_us
klanglogo KL 1520 (1 CD)
A former choirboy at the Domsingschule (Cathedral Singing School) in his hometown of Passau, countertenor Fritz Spengler has belonged to the ensemble of the Trier Theater for the past two seasons, where his roles included the Witch in Hänsel und Gretel and Idamante in Mozart’s Idomeneo. His voice lies higher and has a more opulent timbre than that of Terry Wey, whose CD of 18th century Italian sacred music has also been reviewed in this issue. In fact, Spengler seems more comfortable in the world of opera than he does in Handel’s sacred arias on this debut album. The grand tone and sweeping gestures needed for his operatic characters are transferred to his interpretations of these pieces, where a far more “objective” approach would be better suited to their artistic simplicity. Spengler and the Ensemble ContraPunct_us turn “Sing, Seele, Gott zum Preise” into a dramatic scene, though the text provides no basis for such a reading of the score. The countertenor’s insertion and display of high notes in the da capo section of several arias is out of proportion in this music. There is no doubt this singer has “exceptional potential,” and the reviewer expresses the wish that in the future he will find a more “stylistically competent” milieu in which to develop his talent.

- Kate Lindsey: “Thousands of Miles”
With Baptiste Trotignon (pianist)
Lieder by Korngold, Alma Mahler, and Zemlinsky; songs and excerpts from operas by Kurt Weill
Alpha ALPHA272 (1 CD)
In Germany, Kurt Weill is most closely identified with those operas he composed in cooperation with Bertolt Brecht, chief among them The Threepenny Opera and The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. His “American” works, written after he’d fled to the U.S. from the Nazi regime, are generally free of political overtones and regarded in his native country as “entertainment music,” especially given their Broadway influence. In their first recording together, mezzo Kate Lindsey and French jazz pianist Baptiste Trotignon have focused on the New World Weill, with excerpts from Street Scene and Lost in the Stars, which they’ve paired with a few songs he wrote while still living in Europe. Lindsey and Trotignon have also included selections by other Jewish composers who sought refuge from the Nazis on the other side of the Atlantic, but while at first glance this may seem an interesting concept, the Lieder by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alma Mahler, and Alexander Zemlinsky were written long before their immigration and have no connection in either style or content with Weill’s songs. Zemlinsky was the teacher of Korngold and Alma, and was supposed to have admired Weill’s music. That’s the sole link among these four. Trotignon has penned new arrangements for the piano accompaniment and made the moments of improvisation more accessible to Lindsey, who must react to them in rhythm and vocal coloring. While this approach encourages spontaneity, it also leads the mezzo, who has no jazz voice, to excessively artificial interpretations. It’s as though she’s constantly changing masks to correspond to the style of a particular song. In the Lieder by Weill’s contemporaries, especially Korngold’s setting of Eichendorff’s “Schneeglöckchen,” she introduces a breathy, smoky “nightclub sound” at odds with both the meaning and language of these pieces.

HISTORICAL

- Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier
Conductor: Rudolf Kempe
Cast: Margarete Bäumer, Tiana Lemnitz, Ursula Richter, Kurt Böhme, Hans Löbel, Werner Liebing, Franz Sautter, Emilie Walter-Sacks, Angela Kolniak, Erich Händel, et. al.
Includes a bonus CD with historic recordings from Berlin, Buenos Aires, and Dresden
Hänssler Profil/Naxos PH 16071 (4 CDs)
In 1948, a new production of Der Rosenkavalier was mounted in Dresden, the city where the opera had its world premiere, and this staging became the basis for a radio studio recording that has now been reissued on CD as part of the “Semperoper Dresden” series. However, in nearly all of the important roles, the soloists from the production were replaced by other singers, and Rudolf Kempe was substituted for Joseph Keilberth on the podium of the Staatskapelle Dresden. Kempe’s quite forceful, occasionally “stormy” reading of Strauss’ score avoids any sort of sweetness or nostalgia, and his rapid tempos – especially in the first act – leave little room for the libretto’s conversation. His entire conception is focused on robust comedy, to which the orchestra contributes an often coarse, noisy commentary. The Dresdeners pull out all the stops in the third act, where they revel in the partitur’s waltz melodies. A number of the soloists leave something to be desired, first among them Kurt Böhme as Baron Ochs. Although he subsequently became a leading interpreter of the role, here he seizes any opportunity to push himself into the forefront of the proceedings. His crude, rambunctious portrayal distorts Hofmannsthal’s conception of the character. The Marschallin of Margarete Bäumer, once a sought-after hochdramatische soprano, possesses little charm or erotic aura. The 53 year-old Tiana Lemnitz (Octavian) hardly sounds like an adolescent male, and Ursula Richter is a pointedly childlike Sophie. The real attraction in this set is the bonus CD that contains single recordings from 1911 to 1942. A few months after Der Rosenkavalier’s world premiere, Deutsche Grammophon in Berlin recorded four selections from the work with the three protagonists from the premiere, Margarethe Siems, Eva Plaschke von den Osten, and Minnie Nast. Particularly Siems (Marschallin) sets an example for later interpreters of this role with her relaxed parlando and cheerful, zesty mood. Tiana Lemnitz already sang Octavian in 1936 under Fritz Busch in Buenos Aires, and was heard in the part six years later in a recording from Berlin’s Reichssender (Reich Broadcasting) with Maria Cebotari. (Yes, that Reich – this was in the middle of World War II.) One hears the special charm of her lyric soprano, though even here it has an unmistakable feminine quality that’s not compatible with the character of the breeches role. A real pleasure is the booklet included with the set that contains numerous historic photos, sketches, biographical profiles, and interesting background information, particularly on recording technology of the time.

- Rimsky-Korsakov: The Golden Cockerel
Conductors: Yevgeni Akulov, Alexei Kovalyov
Cast: Alexei Korolyov, Yuri Yelnikov, Alexander Polyakov, Leonid Ktitorov, Antonina Klescheva, Gennadi Pishchayev, Klara Kadinskaya, Nina Polyakova
Melodiya Mel 10 02331 (2 CDs)
Loosely based on Pushkin’s fairy tale in verse of the same title, Rimsky-Korsakov’s final opera satirized the “marionette-like” Russian Imperial court of Tsar Nicholas II and caricatured its pomp with hollow-sounding marches and the “glittering cascades” in the coloratura of the exotic Tsaritsa of Shemakha. In this recording from the early ‘60s with Yevgeni Akulov and Alexei Kovalyov conducting the orchestra and chorus of the Allunionsradios Moscow, the march rhythms in the prologue and epilogue sound more venomous and “grimacing” than in Gergiev’s account at the Mariinsky, while Alexei Korolyov is an intentionally cruder Dodon. With his high falsetto tones, Gennadi Pishchayev is right on target in his portrayal of the “altino” role of the Astrologer, while Klara Kadinskaya’s Tsaritsa is, as the composer wished, “an indecipherable Sphinx,” though her sharp, astringent voice won’t be to everyone’s taste. This recording is definitely worth hearing.

- “René Jacobs: The Countertenor”
The Accent Recordings, 1978-1982
Accent ACC 24321 (4 CDs)
Before he established a reputation as one of the world’s leading conductors of a repertoire extending from Monteverdi to Mozart, René Jacobs was among the pioneers of the Historically Informed Performance practice movement, both as a countertenor and a founder of the Belgian label Accent Records, which specialized in Early Music. In the late 1970s, Jacobs and other singers in this Fach first had to foster an acceptance of this voice type, to which many listeners at the time reacted with irritation or even rejection. To mark his 70th birthday, Accent has released this four-disc set of recordings Jacobs made with the label between 1978 and 1982, on which he’s joined by the Kuikjen brothers, lute player Konrad Junghänel, and the pianist Jos van Immenseel. The material included ranges from Purcell’s songs, German Baroque cantatas, and Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice to Lieder by Beethoven and Schubert, with even Donizetti and Bellini represented. The precise working out of all details and the central importance accorded the text as a music-making medium that are characteristic of Jacobs’ conducting also distinguish his singing. Occasionally this can be too much of a good thing, however. As Orfeo, he strives so much to achieve a performance analogous to speech that at times he’s unable to produce a melodic arc. When he conducted this opera with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, he allowed the Orfeo, Bernarda Fink, a considerably more fluid sound.

- Victoria de los Angeles: Fauré – Debussy – Ravel
With Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone) and Carole Smith (contralto)
Conductors/orchestras: André Cluytens, Georges Prêtre. Charles Munch; Orchestre de la Societé des Conservatoire de Paris, Boston Symphony Orchestra
PRAGA Digitals PRD/DSD 350137 (1 CD)
After more than half a century, the Spanish soprano’s recordings of Fauré’s Requiem, Debussy’s cantata La Demoiselle élue, and Ravel’s Shéhérazade and Cinq mélodies populaires greques, now digitalized, continue to exert considerable fascination. Hers was a voice that possessed an inner as well as an outward glow, and there is still a “certain something” in her combination of rhetorical clarity and charming tone.

MAuer
September 2nd, 2017, 02:04 PM
Summary of reviews from the September, 2017, issue of Das Opernglas (https://www.opernglas.de/):

RECOMMENDED

- Regula Mühlemann: “Cleopatra – Baroque Arias”
Conductor/orchestra: Robin Peter Müller, La Folia Baroque Orchestra
Arias by Hasse, Handel, A, Scarlatti, Graun, Mattheson, Legrenzi, and Sartorio
Sony 88985407012 (1 CD)
This new album from the Swiss soprano is devoted to operatic treatments of the legendary Egyptian Queen who was the lover of Julius Caesar and Marc Antony – as well as another Queen Cleopatra, who was forced to marry Tigranes II, and is a character in Vivaldi’s La virtù trionfante dell’amore e dell’odio. In the aria, “Squarciami pure il seno,” this unfortunate lady gives powerful, dramatic expression to her torment. Among the selections on this disc, none can match “Se pietà di me non senti” from Handel’s Giulio Cesare in emotional depth, and Mühlemann sings this aria with incredible beauty as well as captivating fervor. But the arias from Hasse’s Marc’ Antonio e Cleopatre and Johann Mattheson’s Die unglückliche Cleopatra, Königin von Ãgypten, oder die betrogene Staats-Liebe (how’s that for a title?) also have their merits. Carl Heinrich Graun composed Cesare e Cleopatra on a commission from King Friedrich II of Prussia for the opening of Berlin’s Royal Opera House, though the opera had its world premiere in 1742 before construction of the theater was completed. Mühlemann masters the enormously difficult coloratura in “Tra le procelle assorto” with admirable ease. She receives “vital, fresh” accompaniment from conductor Robin Peter Müller and the La Folia Baroque Orchestra.

- J.S. Bach: Cantatas for Bass
Matthias Goerne (baritone), Katharina Arfken (baroque oboe), Gottfried von der Goltz (violin)
Conductor/orchestra: Gottfried von der Goltz, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
Cantata BWV21, Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, Sinfonia; Cantata BWV56, Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen; Oboe d'amore Concerto in A major (BWV1055); Cantata BWV82, Ich habe genug
Harmonia Mundi HMM902323 (1 CD)
One doesn’t usually expect a singer whose repertoire includes Wagner’s Wotan and Wanderer to record a disc of Bach cantatas, but Matthias Goerne is experienced and skilled enough to do justice to both of these very different styles. His individual, immediately recognizable timbre doesn’t match prevailing ideas of a lean, flexible Bach voice, but it’s precisely this rich tone, vibrato, and sonorous warmth that gives Bach’s music a special character. The listener can understand every word, and Goerne’s uncommonly cultivated, nuanced interpretation translates the written notes into strongly expressive music. One of this CD’s high points is the singer’s duet with the solo oboe in Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen (BWV 56), in which he’s congenially partnered by Katharina Arfken from the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. In the aria, “Ich habe genug,” from the cantata of the same name, Goerne’s marvelously warm Heldenbariton is deeply immersed in Bach’s world, and he displays very solid mastery of the coloratura. Conducted by violinist Gottfried von der Goltz, the Freiburgers impress with their exemplary playing.

- Bellini: “La Ricordanza – Arie da camera”
Maxim Mironov (tenor), Richard Barker (pianoforte)
Illiria 4020796466619 (1 CD)
On this recording of little-known chamber arias by Bellini, the Russian tenor and his accompanist, Richard Barker, strive for an authentic sound, down to the choice of instrument. In the first 11 of these “arie” (which could really be called canzoni), Barker plays a Pianoforte Graf manufactured in Vienna; for the rest, he uses the Pianoforte Pleyel that was popular in the early 19th century. Mironov’s lyric tenor pairs quite well with the striking sound of these historic pianos. The pieces themselves aren’t very demanding and were intended to be pleasantly entertaining – possibly in the French salons. In fact, the last three arias are set to French texts. The reviewer’s only quibble is with the packaging. Mironov’s claim that this disc is a narrative of Bellini’s life told through his music is hard to assess, since there is no accompanying booklet with the arias’ lyrics. The most beautiful of the selections presented here is the titular “La Ricordanza,” described by the reviewer as “six minutes of the most wonderful sound.”

- Beethoven: Irish and Scottish Songs
André Schuen (baritone), Boulanger Trio
AVI Music 8553377 (1 CD)
Although these Lieder have been recorded a number of times already, they are still a fairly unfamiliar part of Beethoven’s compositions. When they are performed by a talented young singer like André Schuen, one is happy to make the acquaintance of the “British Beethoven.” They certainly have their charms, and above all, provide the baritone with an opportunity to display his voice to best advantage. His instrument has an appealingly soft timbre, and his interpretations are richly nuanced and delivered with textual clarity. Only in the dramatic passages could he use a little more vocal fullness, and his treatment of text and music might benefit from further development. He receives top-drawer support from the Boulanger Trio.

- Yaniv D’Or: “Thoughts Observed”
With Dan Deutsch (pianist)
Includes Schumann’s Dichterliebe and songs by Duparc, Debussy, Hahn, and Poulenc
Naxos 8.573780 (1 CD)
The discography of Schumann’s cycle Dichterliebe has now been enriched by quite an exceptional interpretation. The Israeli-British countertenor Yaniv D’Or sings these 16 Lieder in a remarkably different manner than one is accustomed to hearing from tenors and baritones. Thanks to his high, exotically beautiful voice, the songs acquire a different character. One must imagine a very sensitive, quite young man as the narrator; the freshness and immediacy of his emotions are communicated directly to the listener by D’Or in a delightful manner. “Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen” and “Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet” are sung with a beauty one may never have heard before. D’Or avoids pathos whenever possible, so that “Ich grolle nicht” becomes a deeply-felt emotional drama and “Die alten bösen Lieder” reaches a very distressing culmination in the final, quite lyrically sung lines, “Ich senkt’ auch meine Liebe und meinen Schmerz hinein.” In the Schumann cycle and selected songs by Duparc, Debussy, Hahn, and Poulenc, the countertenor is sensitively accompanied by Dan Deutsch. Duparc’s setting of Baudelaire’s “L’invitation au voyage” is probably one of the loveliest, and is sung by D’Or with his “seraphic” voice so beautifully and fervently that, to the reviewer, it seems “meant for another world.”

- Henri Dutilleux: Symphony #1, Deux sonnets de Jean Cassou; Métaboles
Conductor/orchestra: Karl-Heinz Steffens, German State Philharmonic Rheinland-Pfalz
With Paul Armin Edelmann (baritone)
Capriccio C 5242 (1 CD)
Henri Dutilleux, who died in 2013 at the age of 97, was known primarily for his orchestral works. He never wrote an opera, so at least for that reason, his few vocal pieces have a special place among his compositions. One of the most important of these is the Deux sonnets de Jean Cassou, which receives an “exemplary” interpretation from Paul Armin Edelmann on this CD. Cassou wrote his Trente-trois sonnets composés au secret while imprisoned during World War II. He had to memorize all of the texts, since he was unable to write. (Presumably, he was denied the necessary materials for doing so.) The two sonnets set by Dutilleux impress with their unobtrusive emotionalism, and inspired the composer to write music that is immediately gripping. The German State Philharmonic Rheinland-Pfalz, led by Karl-Heinz Steffens, delivers an exciting, richly colorful account of the sonnets as well as the two instrumental works on this disc, Dutilleux’s First Symphony (1951) and Métaboles (1964).

- “Lieder im Volkston” (Songs in the Popular Style)
Regula Mühlemann (soprano), Okka von der Damerau (mezzo soprano), Wolfgang Schwaiger (baritone), Tariq Nazmi (bass), and Adrian Baianu (pianist)
Oehms Classics OC 1875 (1 CD)
In 1900, the magazine Die Woche sponsored a competition for songs written “in the popular style.” The response was overwhelming, with not only hobby tunesmiths, but such notable composers as Reger, d’Albert, Humperdinck, Blech, Kienzl, and Siegfried Wagner submitting entries. The competition’s organizers, among them Joseph Joachim and Humperdinck himself, wanted to promote a feeling for “Hausmusik,” the uncomplicated pieces that could be performed in the home, and the pleasure of singing in a simple, hearty manner. They seem to have succeeded admirably, if one can judge from the nearly 9,000 submissions. On this album, the singers Regula Mühlemann, Okka von der Damerau, Wolfgang Schwaiger, and Tariq Nazmi, accompanied by pianist Adrian Baianu, present 32 selections from this almost forgotten collection. These are accessible melodies that fit well with the core message of their texts. As an example, there is August Bungert’s “Frau Holle,” in which St. Peter “deliciously” scolds Frau Holle (a fairy tale character who is represented causing snowfall by beating her featherbed) for discharging this domestic chore in the springtime. (The reviewer finds it hard to understand that Bungert, who was once famed for his operatic tetralogy Homerische Welt – Homeric World – and even had a 1912 festival in Wiesbaden dedicated to his works, is now completely forgotten.) This disc is a real find for those who like to hunt for hidden treasures.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Wagner: Lohengrin
Conductor: Christian Thielemann
Production by Christine Mielitz (1983)
Cast: Piotr Beczala, Anna Netrebko, Tomasz Konieczny, Evelyn Herlitzius, Georg Zeppenfeld, Derek Welton
Deutsche Grammophon 0735319 (2 DVDs)
Were it not for Evelyn Herlitzius’ loud, vibrato-ridden Ortrud lacking almost any stylistic refinement, this video would be among the recommended recordings. Anna Netrebko’s role debut as Elsa in Dresden was among the most eagerly anticipated events of the previous year, and she didn’t disappoint. The soprano creates a strong impression all along the line, with her glowing midrange, lyrical beauty, and a fabulous top that’s paired with great musicality. If she tended to overemphasize the syllables of the German text for the sake of clarity at the premiere, by this later performance, her articulation is relaxed and in the right flow. One only regrets that, at least for the time being, she doesn’t plan to sing Elsa again. Piotr Beczala was also making his role debut as Lohengrin at the Staatsoper, and he presents an exceptionally noble, fine Swan Knight, if also a touch too circumspect and reserved. His interpretation lacks a little “bite” and the courage to let more renunciation take precedence over a general sensitivity. Nonetheless, he makes a favorable impression with his gleaming high notes and the best treatment of the text among the soloists. Herlitzius at least embodies Ortrud’s demonic character and is not uninteresting. Still, her Telramund, Tomasz Konieczny, is cut from an entirely different bolt of cloth, his baritone well-focused and his upper register very secure. Georg Zeppenfeld makes a flawless King Heinrich, and the contributions of the Saxon State Opera Chorus, prepared by Jörn Hinnerk Andresen, are likewise beyond reproach. Christian Thielemann’s conducting of the Dresden Staatskapelle is a pleasure to hear, with plenty of verve as well as elegiac tempos, delicate violins, and a solemn sound. His musicians deliver a bravura performance, if occasionally one that’s rather too loud. Christine Mielitz’s staging from 1983 is largely traditional.

- Wagner: Parsifal
Conductor: Iván Fischer
Director: Pierre Audi
Cast: Christopher Ventris, Falk Struckmann, Petra Lang, Alejandro Marco Buhrmester, Kurt Rydl, Mikhail Petrenko, et. al.
Challenge Classics CC72619 (1 DVD or 1 Blu-ray disc)
A strong musical performance is saddled with a pretty weak staging in this production from the Dutch National Opera. Pierre Audi has been the company’s Artistic Director since 1988, and has often made his mark in Amsterdam directing major works. However, this Parsifal leaves a more pallid impression than his staging of Wagner’s Ring cycle. Though Audi secured a respected artist in the sculptor Anish Kapoor as the set designer, the visual components have only limited effect on DVD, with many scenes too monochromatic and the transformations typical in this opera not taking place. The stage is submerged in blood-red light until Parsifal appears, after which things become clearer but also more abstract. A rocky landscape such as might be seen in the finale of Die Walküre becomes recognizable, followed by stage elements in which wood features prominently– i.e., the scaffolding for the choristers reminiscent of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The second act is dominated by a parabolic mirror that, in a sense, brings Parsifal’s journey toward insight into focus. On the whole, this production likely had a more powerful effect in the theater; the one advantage of the video is the camera close-ups that help to give the characters individual profiles. Audi tells a story full of wonder and mystery, but only in the typical scenes – Parsifal catching the spear (which shatters like the Wanderer’s in Siegfried), or the redemptive finale – does the beginning of an individual interpretation become perceptible. In contrast, Iván Fischer draws fluid, intensely colorful playing from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, with great climaxes and powerful accents from the strings. In the title role, Christopher Ventris proves that his clear, heroic tenor hasn’t lost its lyrical foundation, and he delivers a powerful account of the scene with Kundry. The reviewer refers to Petra Lang as a mezzo with a very strong top, though the singer has apparently transitioned to the hochdramatische soprano Fach. Her portrayal is full of intensity and beautifully shows the two sides of Kundry’s character: her nasty one with Klingsor and her seductive one with Parsifal. A plus in this production is the Gurnemanz of Falk Struckmann, whose charismatic, highly individual voice is ideally suited to bass roles such as this one. His monologue is marked by clear diction and a strong personality. Alejandro Marco-Buhrmester (Amfortas) starts out with a strong vibrato, but manages a convincing performance with his cultivated, nuanced singing. Mikhail Petrenko (Titurel) completes the very well-chosen cast with his sonorous bass-baritone. (There is no mention of Kurt Rydl’s Klingsor.)

- Wagner: Das Liebesverbot
Conductor: Ivor Bolton
Director: Kasper Holten
Cast: Manuela Uhl, Christopher Maltman, Peter Lodahl, Ilker Arcayürek, Ante Jerkunica
Opus Arte OA 1191D (1 DVD)
In 2016, Madrid’s Teatro Real commemorated the 200th anniversary of this early Wagner opera and the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth with this production of a work based on the English playwright’s Measure For Measure. Director Kasper Holten has “tossed together” a staging with elements from different eras. By far his most inventive idea appears right at the beginning of the performance. As the overture is played, the curtains remain closed and a virtual version of Cäsar Willich’s portrait of Wagner – which the composer himself detested – is projected on them, where it coquettishly raises its eyebrows at the audience, blinks in time to the music, and moves its lips as though whistling. Once the sets are revealed, one sees walls adorned with a variety of colorful neon graphics, many of which look like signage advertising a strip club. The soloists and choristers appear in multi-colored everyday clothing and costumes from the turn of the 20th century, and are soon joined by modern stage technicians toting camera equipment and the “unappetizingly gesticulating” populace. At the end of the opera, the protagonists clad themselves as an assortment of Elsas, Lohengrins, Wotans, and Gibichungs as a protest against the authorities’ banning of Carnevale in an attempt to curtail licentious behavior. Christopher Maltman’s tolerably well-managed Friedrich and Manuela Uhl’s credible Isabella are vocally and dramatically persuasive. The entire cast acts well, so that things never drag or become dry over the course of the opera. Under the baton of Ivor Bolton, the Orquestra Titulares del Teatro Real gives a dashing, richly varied rendition of Wagner’s score, with big arcs suggestive of Leitmotifs that are meaningfully related to the onstage action. However, their playing is not free of the occasional instrumental glitch. The band does a good job of supporting the soloists, who often have audible difficulties with the challenging music. The choristers, prepared by Andrés Máspero, are harmoniously secure and display very clear diction.

- Michael Volle: “Richard Wagner”
Conductor/orchestra: Georg Fritzsch, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Excerpts from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Der fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, Parsifal, Siegfried, Das Rheingold, and Die Walküre
Orfeo C904171A (1 CD)
This album of Wagner arias by Michael Volle has far more pluses than minuses. At every moment, one hears his experience and feel for the repertoire in roles ranging from the Dutchman and Wolfram to Wotan and Hans Sachs; his singing always has a cantabile quality, clear diction, and plenty of nuance. His trim Heldenbariton is heard to best effect in the excerpts from the Ring, with long phrases and a clean, warm tone. His voice doesn’t have the sonorous, full sound exemplified by George London or James Morris, but is more in the tradition of Theo Adam. At least in this recording, it asserts itself superbly and usually without forcing against the orchestra. Nonetheless, some selections are lacking the “spice,” or what the reviewer calls the “bestial” in Wagner’s figures. One misses the tonal abysses one can often hear in the Dutchman’s monologue, or Amfortas’ expressivity. The strong personality Volle projects in the theater is heard only to a limited extent on the CD. Whether that’s the result of the studio setting, a striving for unblemished, cultivated singing, or the conducting of Georg Fritzsch can only be guessed at. The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra accompanies the singer flawlessly, though many passages sound too bland and show too little feeling for the dramatic effect of the music.

- Julie Davies: Bellini – Schubert – Liszt – Wagner
With Charles Spencer (pianist)
Capriccio C 3003 (1 CD)
The American soprano, who made her international debut in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor at the Darmstadt State Theater and has since appeared in Les Contes d’Hoffmann, I Pagliacci, and Don Pasquale, is the latest young singer to be showcased in Capriccio’s “Premiere Portraits” series. Instead of performing well-known opera arias, she’s chosen instead an attractive program of unfamiliar pieces by famous composers. The CD begins with three Metastasio settings by Bellini, and these pretty little “ariettas” are followed by Schubert’s Vier Canzonas with Italian texts – two of them by Metastasio. Liszt is represented by his Tre sonetti del Petrarca, and the disc is rounded out with one of Wagner’s “youthful sins,” his French-language Les adieux de Marie Stuart (WWV 61). Davies possesses a voluminous, powerful soprano, but unfortunately, she often uses it in a very undifferentiated manner. Too often, she bypasses nuances in order to make an impression with excessive pressure.

MAuer
September 8th, 2017, 11:21 AM
Odd -- the double September-October issue of Opernwelt has arrived, with reviews from all of the summer festivals . . . but no reviews of any recordings.

MAuer
October 5th, 2017, 05:36 PM
Summary of reviews from the October, 2017, issue of Das Opernglas (https://www.opernglas.de/):

RECOMMENDED

- Berg: Lulu
Conductor: Kirill Petrenko
Director: Dmitri Tcherniakov
Cast: Marlis Petersen, Daniela Sindram, Rachael Wilson, Rainer Trost, Bo Skovhus, Matthias Klink, Martin Winkler, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Elsa Benoit, Christian Rieger, Pavlo Hunka, Christoph Stephinger
Bel Air Classiques BAC 129 )2 DVDs)
This production from the Bavarian State Opera has it all: a top-notch musical performance with a charismatic leading lady and a thoughtful staging by Dmitri Tcherniakov characterized by “rock-hard” Personenregie. The opera’s three-act version with Friedrich Cerha’s orchestration of the final act is used here, and makes the depth of Lulu’s fall apparent. Tcherniakov’s focus is not on the child-woman, but rather Lulu’s relationships with the men around her. At the end, she stabs herself with Jack the Ripper’s knife – perhaps as atonement for killing the one man she loved? The Regisseur placed enormous demands on the singers, yet his concept never intrudes into the foreground. And those viewers hoping for lots of bare skin will be disappointed. With costumes by Elena Zaytseva and lighting by Gleb Filshtinsky, the action takes place in reflective, transparent “emotional spaces” in which shades of white, black, and gray predominate. Marlis Petersen is vocally and dramatically an “exemplary” Lulu. In the first act, she displays secure coloratura; in the second, she fills a lirico-spinto sound with fine legato; and in the third, simply nails the almost hochdramatisch passages. The reviewer describes her Lulu as a cold seductress with passion blazing beneath a surface of crystalline ice. The other soloists, if not quite up to Petersen’s standard, leave no cause for complaint. Daniela Sindram brings a full, round mezzo to Countess Geschwitz, Bo Skovhus a succinct, not overly large baritone to Dr. Schön and Jack the Ripper, Rainer Trost a beautifully produced tenor to the Painter and the Black Man, and Pavlo Hunka an attractive, lean bass to Schigolch. Matthias Klink’s melting tenor may be a touch too lyrical for Alwa, but Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s biting tone fits the Prince, Valet, and Marquis. Martin Winkler makes a coarse, rambunctious Animal Trainer and Athlete with his big bass. The Staatsoper’s General Music Director, Kirill Petrenko, draws playing of lyrical as well as a uniquely austere beauty from his orchestra, with a flow that makes the long performance (two discs) practically fly by. The “podium magician,” as the reviewer calls him, approaches the first two acts, orchestrated by Berg, with restrained dynamics and expression before cutting loose in the third, with Cerha’s “arid, unwieldly” orchestration, to present the work as a unified whole.

- Jonas Kaufmann: “L’Opéra”
Conductor/orchestra: Bertrand de Billy, Bavarian State Orchestra
With Sonya Yoncheva (soprano) and Ludovic Tézier (baritone)
Arias and duets by Gounod, Bizet, Massenet, Lalo, Offenbach, Meyerbeer, Halévy, Berlioz, and Thomas
Sony 88985390762 (1 CD)
The newest album by the famed tenor that’s devoted to the French repertoire isn’t flawless, but the limitations are slight enough that they don’t detract from the overall quality of the recording. The variety of composers represented here attests to Kaufmann’s versatility and his ability to convey sorrowful, elegiac, dramatic, or romantic moods as character and situation require. His strength is the unmistakable baritonal coloring of an incomparably expressive voice that doesn’t rely alone on tenorial brilliance; his style is distinguished by masterful, highly individual characterizations and idiomatic diction. In the first aria, Roméo’s “Ah, Lève-toi Soleil,” he varies dynamics throughout his range, his singing harmonizes beautifully with the accompanying flute, and he transitions perfectly from a pianissimo to a heroic fortissimo. The concluding decrescendo is another of his trademarks, as are the many gentle high notes on this disc. The reviewer describes Kaufmann as “celebrating” piano singing on this recording. His rendition of “O paradis” from L’Africaine is sung almost like a lullaby at times, in contrast to the accounts by Pavarotti and Bergonzi, who brought considerably more volume and excitement to the piece. In the selections from Massenet’s Manon that follow, this tender, intimate approach is wonderfully suited to the music, and in the Saint Sulpice duet, he’s joined by Sonya Yoncheva with her colorful soprano that can sound a bit thin in quiet phrases. It’s particularly interesting to compare his versions of Don José’s Flower Song and Werther’s “Pourquoi me réveiller” on this CD with those on his first recital album, “Romantic Arias,” recorded a number of years ago. Despite the many heroic roles he’s added to his repertoire in the meantime, his tenor sounds similar and is similarly produced. Even then, he employed a great deal of piano and sang with some vibrato and powerful, radiant high notes. That’s scarcely changed; only the register shifts are no longer quite as effortless. In the Werther aria, he allows himself greater freedom now and his interpretation is even more nuanced, but his top could be more unforced. Likewise, in “Rachel, quand du Seigneur” from Halévy’s La Juive, one doesn’t hear perfect, effortless attack, but rather gripping interpretive artistry in which the aria’s difficulties are more perceptible than perhaps one had hoped. Surprisingly, neither is the tenor’s portion of the Pearl Fishers duet (in which he harmonizes wonderfully with baritone Ludovic Tézier) ideally controlled. One can only speculate whether or not Kaufmann’s voice sounded as free and lustrous as one might have wished during the recording sessions, which took place during the final week of this past April. Still, with this disc, Kaufmann proves himself an emotional advocate for French opera who is well worth hearing. He’s ably supported by conductor Bertrand de Billy and the Bavarian State Orchestra, with playing of proven quality full of tonal beauty.

- Véronique Gens: “Visions”
Conductor/orchestra: Hervé Niquet, Munich Radio Orchestra
Arias by Bizet, Halévy, Massenet, Franck, Félicien David, Alfred Bruneau, Saint-Saëns. Henry Février, Benjamin Godard, and Louis Niedermeyer
Alpha ALPHA279 (1 CD)
The latest release by Orleans native Véronique Gens is also devoted to the French repertoire, with a focus on unknown pieces from the Romantic period. She’s included arias from operas and oratorios written between 1837 and 1919 that are stylistically related and characterized by a “luxurious reveling” in melody and sentiment. Composers represented are both the famous (Saint-Saëns, Massenet, and Bizet) and the unfamiliar (Alfred Bruneau, Louis Niedermeyer, or Henry Février, for example). With her full, strongly expressive soprano, Gens is capable of superbly mastering these selections’ dramatic passages and takes care to sing the emotionally charged moments with stylistic assurance and a fine timbre. Partnered by Hervé Niquet and the Munich Radio Orchestra, she brings these forgotten gems to light with audible enthusiasm. Given the quality of the recording, it’s regrettable that the accompanying booklet provides no information about these composers or their works.

- Philippe Jaroussky: “The Händel Album"
Conductor/orchestra: Philippe Jaroussky, Ensemble Artaserse
Arias from Imeneo, Riccardo Primo, Siroe, Serse, Radamisto, Flavio, Amadigi, Tolomeo, Giustino, and Ezio
Erato 9029575966 (1 CD)
The noted French countertenor likewise opts for the road less traveled in his new album, which features arias from some of Handel’s less popular operas along with selections from the composer’s better-known works. The pieces here encompass a wide range of emotions, among them the magnificent aria “Se potesso I sospir miei” that confirms the quality of Imeneo, an opera that was pretty much a failure when it premiered in London, but which Handel believed in sufficiently to take along to Dublin, where Messiah had its triumphant introduction to an enthusiastic audience. (BTW, the album uses the German spelling of his surname, with an umlaut over the letter “a.”) It’s astonishing that this is actually the first recording dedicated to Handel’s music by Jaroussky, who won critical acclaim for his Ruggiero in the Aix-en-Provence Festival production of Alcina. Even more surprising is the fact that he also conducts the excellent Ensemble Artaserse himself on this CD. The musicians play with dedication, precision, and such perfect unity that one might imagine an experienced Baroque interpreter to be on the podium. Jaroussky has developed a recital of great beauty and comprehensiveness that continues to fascinate even after repeated listening. (The reviewer likens it to an addiction.) That arias from the lesser-known operas like Flavio, Ezio, or Siroe can impress the listener reaffirms Handel’s genius and his ability to penetrate the psyche of his characters with instinctive sureness. The countertenor himself impresses with a voice that has a rounded, beautiful top and the capability of sounding powerful or poetically soft and velvety as needed. His spotless messa di voce – the even swell and subsiding of the tone – is enchantingly beautiful, described by the reviewer as “pure charm, poetry, (and) magic.”

“Händel Goes Wild”
Conductor/orchestra: Christina Pluhar, L’Arpeggiata
With Nuria Rial (soprano), Valer Sabadus (countertenor), and Gianluigi Trovesi (jazz clarinetist)
Selections from Alcina, Rinaldo, Semele, Solomon, Amadigi, Giulio Cesare, Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, and Serse; Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor, RV157
Erato 902581169 (1 CD)
The Austrian theorbist, harpist, and conductor Christina Pluhar is always good for a surprise, and she amazes here with her unique improvizations on Handel’s music. (The Erato label clearly favors the German spelling of the naturalized Briton’s name.) Together with her orchestra L’Arpeggiata, jazz clarinetist Gianluigi Trovesi, soprano Nuria Rial, and countertenor Valer Sabadus, she performs some of Handel’s most beautiful “earworms” in a style one has likely never heard before. The disc begins with the overture to Alcina as a jazzed-up bravura piece. The orchestra does exercise restraint when Sabadus sings arias from Rinaldo and Alcina with his “angelic” voice, and tries to give expression to the poetry of the music – admittedly in a very original manner. The well-known “Ombra mai fu” from Serse is introduced by a long prelude by the jazz clarinet before Sabadus is heard with his incomparably beautiful, weightlessly floating tone. By casting Handel’s music in an entirely new light, this CD easily bridges the time between the 18th and 21st centuries, and will certainly convince many listeners that Baroque music can be fascinating.

- J.S. Bach: Cantatas for Soprano
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Andreas Wolf (bass-baritone)
Conductor/orchestra: Petra Müllejans, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra; Katharina Arfken (oboist)
Includes Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten (BWV202), Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn (BWV152), Mein Herze schwimmt in Blut (BWV199)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902252 (1 CD)
The three years Bach spent in Weimar as concertmaster of the court orchestra (1714-1717) are considered the period of his early masterpieces, where he proved himself the most innovative composer of sacred music. Although only 22 of the Weimar cantatas have survived, they are among the finest of the genre thanks to their diversity and wealth of ideas. The English soprano Carolyn Sampson has recorded three of them on this CD with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra led by Petra Müllejans and the solo oboist Katharina Arfken. Each one of these early works is a “jewel,” exemplified by the lively Wedding Cantata (BWV202) with its reverie, humor, and captivating, dance-like tone. The pieces show Sampson’s silvery, clear soprano to best advantage, and even in the subdued, sad passages, she finds the right sound, as in the “heavenly” melodic arc of Mein Herze schwimmt in Blut (BWV199).

- Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin
Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Gerold Huber (pianist)
Sony 88985427402 (1 CD)
Fourteen years ago, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber made their first recording of Schubert’s well-known Lied cycle. (The two have been performing together since their school days.) Huber supports the baritone superbly, the breadth of his playing encompassing the most beautiful tranquil tones, brilliant rapid passages, and polished agogic accents. The manner in which Gerhaher conveys excitement in his tone (“Der Jäger”), expresses feelings with singing that almost suggests Baroque coloratura (“Mein!”), and depicts the young mill worker’s death with a long decrescendo (“Des Baches Wiegenlied”) provides a fascinating interpretation. He draws an ideal mixture of the vernacular and “artistic” tone from his unforced voice, and varies the basic sound as the situation requires; in “Am Feierabend,” his singing is both “human” and artistic. In moments of agitation (“Der Jäger”), he shapes the text in a sonorous and uncommonly vivid fashion.

- Mahler: Song Cycles
Conductor/orchestra: Marc Albrecht, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra
Alice Coote (mezzo soprano)
Includes Songs of a Wayfarer, Rückert Lieder, and Kindertotenlieder
Pentatone 5186 576
This is a fine recording of three of Mahler’s best-known Lied cycles by British mezzo Alice Coote. Her interpretations are filled with many luminous phrases and uplifts, and above all, she produces exactly the right sound for these often dark pieces. Her diction is good, she successfully asserts herself against the orchestra, and her sonorous voice has a distinctly soprano-like quality in the upper register. Conductor Marc Albrecht elicits clear, transparent playing from the exemplary Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and creates the proper mood for each individual song.

- Reger: Orchestral Songs
Conductor/orchestra: Gregor Buhl, Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz
With Stefani Iranyi (mezzo soprano), Rainer Trost (tenor), and Paul Armin Edelmann (baritone)
Includes Reger’s own orchestral songs as well as his arrangements of Lieder by Schubert, Brahms, Grieg, and Wolf
Capriccio C5275 (1 CD)
Max Reger was not only among the most important composers of organ music, but also wrote a large number of pieces with the most varied accompaniments. He transcribed operas, symphonies, and organ works for piano and penned orchestral arrangements of his own Lieder as well as those of other composers. This album on the Capriccio label, with Gregor Buhl conducting the German State Philharmonic of the Rhineland-Palatinate and a group of soloists, presents a collection of Reger’s most significant orchestral songs and is worth hearing. It creates a portrait of a composer with a feeling for the finest tonal shadings and great sensitivity. One hardly hears the big, powerful sound characteristic of his organ works in these pieces, and while one may debate whether or not the piano accompaniment should be replaced with orchestral arrangements in songs such as Schubert’s “An den Mond,” the Gesänge des Harfners, or his Erlkönig cycle, the result is nonetheless interesting. The three soloists hold their own against the orchestra and can sing to a great extent without forcing. Rainer Trost is especially pleasing with the beautiful timbre of his healthy lyric tenor and natural treatment of text and music. Baritone Paul Armin Edelmann and mezzo Stefani Iranyi also prove themselves engaged interpreters, though they seem to come from the stage tradition rather than that of the concert podium and often sound somewhat effortful. Still, the reviewer recommends this CD without reservations.

“Cornelia Hübsch Sings Korngold and Goldmark”
With Charles Spencer (pianist)
Includes Korngold’s Unvergänglichkeit, op. 27, and Goldmark’s Lieder (12), op. 18; (4), op. 21, and (4), op. 34
Capriccio C3004 (1 CD)
Austrian soprano Cornelia Hübsch is the latest young artist to be introduced in Capriccio’s Premiere Portraits series. She’s primarily been active in operetta and on the concert stage, so it’s probably not surprising that she’s chosen a program of Lieder for this disc. She pairs Korngold’s cycle Unvergänglichkeit (Immortality) with three sets of songs by Karl Goldmark. The interesting compilation of Late Romantic pieces benefits from Hübsch’s sonorous, richly colored timbre and exemplary diction. Even if her strong suit is her easy, attractive top, she is able to effectively assert herself in the dramatic Lieder. Pianist Charles Spencer provides superb accompaniment.

- Ulf Bästlein: “Wie tut mir so wohl der selige Frieden”
With Sascha El Mouissi (pianist)
Settings of poems by Karl Gottfried von Leitner
Gramola 99068 (2 CDs)
In this two-disc set, bass-baritone Ulf Bästlein and pianist Sascha El Mouissi present a collection of songs written to verses by Karl Gottfried von Leitner by Schubert as well as a large number of unfamiliar composers, among them Albert Stadler, Anselm Hüttenbrenner (both friends of Schubert), Robert Fuchs, Franz Paul Lachner, and Sigismund Thalberg. Leitner, who lived from 1800-1890, was a highly regarded poet in the 19th century, though even during his lifetime was labeled a representative of the Biedermeier tradition and forgotten soon thereafter. His primary claim to fame has been the 10 songs Schubert set to his verses in 1827. (Eight of them are included on this recording.) To give the listener a sense of Leitner’s talent, Bästlein recites several of his poems, which lends additional color and variety to this program. He sings the Lieder with an attractive bass-baritone and a simple, natural interpretation. Making the acquaintance of both Leitner and the various composers represented here will be thoroughly rewarding for lovers of the art song as well as those with literary interests. Kudos to the Gramola label for the exceptionally informative accompanying booklet.

- Barbara Emilia Schedel: “Ophelia Songs – A Document in Madness”
Accompanists: Christoph Schickedanz, Zoya Nevgodovska, Maya Hunziker, Emanuel Wehse, and Günter Albers
Songs by Brahms, Schumann, Strauss, Rihm, Berlioz, Saint-Saëns, Chausson, Shostakovich, Linley, and Quilter
Telos Music TLS 186 (1 CD)
German soprano Barbara Emilia Schedel has long been fascinated by the character of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, and has developed this impressive multilingual program of songs dealing with Hamlet’s unhappy lady love. (The album’s subtitle is a line spoken by her brother Laertes). The variety of selections is astonishing. There are German Lieder (Schumann’s “Herzleid,” Brahms’ Five Ophelia Songs, and Strauss’ Three Songs of Ophelia); French Mélodies by Berlioz, Saint-Saëns, and Chausson; Shostakovich’s Song of Ophelia; and English texts set by William Linley (Shakespeare’s Dramatic Songs), Roger Quilter (“How should I your true love know?”), and Wolfgang Rihm (“They bore him barefaced on the bier”). Admittedly, many of these pieces are not performed with their original instrumentation, but in chamber music arrangements commissioned by Schedel. Her lyric soprano is heard to advantage paired with the very appealing sound of the strings.

- Chorakademie Lübeck: Brahms – Dvořák – Schumann
Members of the Lübeck Choral Academy led by Rolf Beck; Ulrike Payer (pianist)
Euroimmun Records (1 CD)
The popularity of the romantic choral song reached its zenith in the 19th century, with composers such as Schumann and Brahms writing pieces of extraordinary expressive power and deep romantic feeling. An example is the melancholy mood conjured by Brahms’ “Spätherbst” (Late Autumn), where the listener can practically hear how “the gray fog drips” (der grau Nebel tropft) as a feeling of overwhelming sadness spreads. In contrast are the same composer’s Zigeunerliedern (Gypsy Songs), op. 103, based on Hungarian folk melodies in which the subject is the many facets of love. For this recording, it was logical to pair that cycle with Dvořák’s Sechs Klänge aus Mähern (Six Tunes from Moravia). Directed by Rolf Beck, the members of Chorakademie Lübeck and pianist Ulrike Payer perform these works at a very high interpretive level, and it’s a pleasure to encounter this largely unfamiliar musical terrain.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Wagner: Parsifal
Conductor: Hartmut Haenchen
Director: Uwe-Eric Laufenberg
Cast: Klaus Florian Vogt, Elena Pankratova, Ryan McKinny, Georg Zeppenfeld, Karl-Heinz Lehner, Gerd Grochowski
Deutsche Grammophon 0735350 (2 DVDs)
Georg Zeppenfeld’s Gurnemanz may be almost the only saving grace in this Bayreuth Festival performance, which is limited by conducting that seems rather unfinished and weighed down by a staging that often comes across as clueless. Director Uwe-Eric Laufenberg transplanted the action to the present day, somewhere in the Iraq-Syria war zone, with events taking place in a church during the first and third acts, and a seraglio in the second. In this region, religions clash and carry out their conflict while soldiers (presumably American) in combat uniforms occasionally wander through. According to the reviewer, Laufenberg’s concept can only be seen as radical, clearly going beyond a questioning, probing approach to the work’s content. Things are not helped by an assortment of costumes, props, and symbols that seem to have little relationship to each other. At the beginning of Act III, Gurnemanz appears as a healthy, vital man before suddenly placing himself in a wheelchair. He subsequently trades places in the chair with Kundry. How this is possible and what it’s supposed to mean remain a mystery – one which, the reviewer adds, few will feel the need to solve. In one respect, the empty stage at the opera’s conclusion at least eliminates the obvious result of the director’s “little notions.” One of those to suffer from Laufenberg’s treatment is the Parsifal, Klaus Florian Vogt. His singing is unforced, and if the writing sometimes lies a little too low for him, the presence of the recording microphones sufficiently conceals the fact. That his portrayal is less convincing than Zeppenfeld’s is due to the contrast between the singer and the Regisseur’s conception of the figure. If he is presented as extremely youthful in the first act, he must act the hardened warrior in the following two, something that doesn’t fit at all with his light, clear voice. Zeppenfeld’s Gurnemanz is an unalloyed pleasure with his textual clarity, phrasing, and the roundness and evenness of his sonorous bass throughout its range. His voice opens up quite naturally and he never needs to press. In contrast, Elena Pankratova’s sweeping soprano is laid on more thickly than is customary nowadays, and her Kundry isn’t especially credible. Her approach doesn’t really correspond to either Laufenberg’s staging or conductor Hartmut Haenchen’s interpretation. The Maestro may have been aiming for a new direction in his reading of Wagner’s score, but the fact that he replaced the originally scheduled conductor at short notice may account for the impression of it being somewhat unfinished. His fluid tempos in the first act generate excitement, but in the second act, musical high points aren’t fully capitalized on and the sound begins a sort of gentle rolling – a situation that persists through the third act. Among the other soloists, Karl-Heinz Lehner’s Titurel provides another bright spot, but the late Gerd Grochowski sings Klingsor with a very rough baritone and Ryan McKinney, made up to look like Christ with his crown of thorns, impresses more with his physique than his vocalism.

- Salieri: L’Europa riconosciuta
Conductor: Riccardo Muti
Director: Luca Ronconi
Cast: Diana Damrau, Désirée Rancatore, Genia Kühmeier, Daniela Barcellona, Giuseppe Sabbatini; Alessandra Ferri, Roberto Bolle (dancers)
Erato 9029588998 (1 DVD)
In this opera’s plot, Princess Europa of Tyre and Prince Isséo are engaged to be married, but the nuptials are scuttled when the lady is abducted by King Asterio of Crete and forced to wed him instead. Europa’s father, King Agenore, names his niece Semele as his successor, but when he dies, Asterio decides it’s time to claim the throne for his Tyrian wife. When he and his family are shipwrecked off Tyre, they are taken prisoner by Egisto and his soldiers. Meanwhile, Semele has fallen in love with Isséo and plans to marry him. All sorts of romantic and political complications ensue, including Egisto’s plans to seize the throne himself, before Europa is finally recognized as the legitimate monarch. She promptly abdicates in favor of Semele and Isséo.
The cast makes a much better impression than either conductor or Regisseur in this performance from La Scala’s grand reopening in December, 2014, following a three-year renovation of the theater. Salieri’s opera was chosen for the occasion since it had been the work with which the house was inaugurated in August, 1778, but distinguishes itself more with florid coloratura than a credible plot. The roles turn the soloists into little more than singing dolls rather than convincing figures with believable relationships and meaningful development. Unfortunately, director Luca Ronconi seems to have made no effort to conceal the opera’s dramaturgical weaknesses; his “statuary” Personenführung creates no interest in the fate of these characters, and the costumes – stylized military garb and motorcycle helmets – do little more than clothe the singers. Pier Luigi Pizzi devised very aesthetic, abstract sets with a variety of gray walls, a mobile staircase, and a giant metal construction that facilitate an assortment of spatial configurations, and yet it’s still difficult to follow the performance with any degree of concentration. Riccardo Muti is a successful, experienced conductor, but not a specialist for the revival of forgotten works such as Ivor Bolton or Marc Minkowski, both of whom dare, as the reviewer phrases it, to look beneath the surface of the notation. From the present day’s perspective, Muti’s account seems too generic. The attraction of this DVD is likely to be the luxury cast La Scala assembled for the event. There is a pair of first-class coloratura sopranos in the roles of Europa and Semele with Diana Damrau and Désirée Rancatore. The former impresses with the ease of her singing, brilliant coloratura, and ability to place accents without shrillness or monochromatic tone; she also lends dignity and passion to her character. If Rancatore sounds a touch more effortful, she still contributes effectively to the vocal pyrotechnics. It says something for Salieri that these numbers contain some real surprises, as when what seems to be one of Semele’s arias turns out to be a duet. He’s given both sopranos beautiful duets with the character of Isséo, sung here by Daniela Barcellona with her customary mastery. Genia Kühmeier (Asterio) shows that her lyric soprano can muster notable power, while tenor Giuseppe Sabbatini offers a heroic Egisto.

- Haydn: “Opera Gala”
Excerpts from L'infedeltà delusa and La vera costanza
Conductors/orchestra: Markus Poschner and Manuel Hernandez-Silva; WDR Rundfunkorchester Köln
Soloists: Simone Kermes, Chen Reiss, Siphiwe McKenzie-Edelmann (sopranos), Rainer Trost, Thomas Michael Allen, Andreas Scheidegger (tenors), Wolfgang Holzmair, Paul Armin Edelmann, Jürgen Sacher (baritones), Ivan Paley (bass)
Capriccio C5255 (2 CDs)
The title of this set is rather misleading, suggesting a program of selections from Haydn’s 14 operas performed by top-class soloists. Instead, it consists solely of excerpts from two of them, L’infedeltà delusa and La vera costanza, recorded in 2009 and 2011 by the West German Radio Broadcast Center Orchestra in Cologne, with Markus Poschner on the podium for the former and Manuel Hernandez-Silva for the latter. The music of both is agreeable, and with the right musicians and director, these operas can appeal to modern audiences, as various staged and concert performances in recent years have demonstrated. The recording of La vera costanza excerpts is marked by Juanita Lascarro’s strongly expressive soprano and Wolfgang Holzmair’s well-schooled baritone. They are joined by Chen Reiss, Thomas Michael Allen, Paul Armin Edelmann, Rainer Trost, and Siphiwe McKenzie-Edelmann. There are stronger leads for L’infedeltà delusa with Chen Reiss, who easily masters the coloratura, and Simone Kermes, who fosters the requisite stage atmosphere. Andreas Scheidegger, Jürgen Sacher, and Ivan Paley contribute more in the way of characterization and scene than in attractive voices.

- Celso Albelo: “Intimamente”
With Juan Francisco Parra (pianist)
Latin American canciones by Alberto Ginastera, Carlos Guastavino, Juan Quintero, Joaquín Turina, et. al.
Sony Classical 88985466162 (1 CD)
The Spanish tenor has been making a name for himself in the opera houses of Vienna, Berlin, and Milan, specializing in the bel canto repertoire and also singing some Verdi roles, most notably the Duke in Rigoletto. For this album, however, he’s chosen to record a selection of Argentinian and Chilean canciones, many of them by Alberto Ginastera and Carlos Guastavino, with which he’d grown up. These catchy pieces are more comparable to the emotional Neapolitan melodies than art songs by Schubert or Brahms. Albelo has the right voice for this music; however, his tenor possesses a great deal of vibrato and his intonation isn’t always clean.

- Angelika Huber: “Shakespeare Sonnets”
With Kilian Sprau (pianist)
Lieder by Anton Beer-Walbrunn
Bayer Records BR 100 390 (1 CD)
Munich resident Anton Beer-Walbrunn, who died in 1929, wrote four operas and a large number of other works in various genres, but in spite of a glowing obituary that lauded him as one of Germany’s best composers, his music has pretty much been forgotten. Soprano Angelika Huber, who was educated in the Bavarian capital, and pianist Kilian Sprau have selected 22 from a total of 60 Lieder written by Beer-Walbrunn for this recording, chief among them settings of Shakespeare’s sonnets in German translations by Otto Gildemeister and Friedrich von Bodenstedt. Beer-Walbrunn’s choice of texts reflects his marked feeling for literary quality; in addition to Shakespeare, Nikolaus Lenau, Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, and Joseph von Eichendorff are represented here. Huber has a beautiful soprano, but she’s really not up to the interpretive difficulties of these songs. Listeners can only imagine the quality of these pieces and wonder what other “treasures” by Beer-Walbrunn are still waiting in the archives of Munich’s City Library to be discovered.

Soave_Fanciulla
October 5th, 2017, 06:25 PM
Here we go again. Another recording in the cart which was not meant to be there.

I said to myself "Really, don't you have enough Gerhaher/lieder" but clearly I don't.

But seriously, Mary, thank you so much for your translating work!

Ann Lander (sospiro)
October 5th, 2017, 07:17 PM
But seriously, Mary, thank you so much for your translating work!

:applause:

Seconded!

Florestan
October 5th, 2017, 09:52 PM
Quote Originally Posted by Soave_Fanciulla View Post
But seriously, Mary, thank you so much for your translating work!


:applause:

Seconded!

Thirded!

Amfortas
October 11th, 2017, 07:59 PM
Thirded!

Fourthded!

MAuer
November 2nd, 2017, 05:53 PM
Review summary for the November, 2017, issue of Das Opernglas (https://www.opernglas.de/):

RECOMMENDED

- Donizetti: La Favorite
Conductor: Karel Mark Chichon
Director: Amélie Niermeyer
Cast: Elīna Garanča, Matthew Polenzani, Mariusz Kwiecień, Mika Kares, Joshua Owen Mills, Elsa Benoit, et. al.
Deutsche Grammophon 0735358 (2 DVDs)
For her production of La Favorite at the Bavarian State Opera last autumn, director Amélie Niermeyer dispensed with any royal pomp and grandeur, instead updating the action from the 14th century to the present time. Alexander Müller-Elmau’s sets are emphatically sparse, with groups of chairs placed around the stage as needed; a shadowy figure of the crucified Christ seems to comment on events by puzzling movements of his head. Though the orchestra plays the “Airs de danses,” no actual dancers appear. Instead, the viewer sees King Alphonse and Léonor reacting to the ballet they are supposed to be watching. As his mistress, she’s more or less compelled to attend this “command performance” (my term), during which the King attempts to demonstrate to her with exaggerated gestures and grotesque dance steps how fabulous this terpsichorean treat is. The reviewer finds this a very inventive idea that speaks volumes about this couple’s fractured relationship. He also observes that performances of this opera stand or fall with the mezzo singing the title role, and in Munich, the part was ideally cast with Elīna Garanča. She captures Léonor’s aversion to the insistent Alphonse as well as her gradual succumbing to Fernand’s avowals of love. Her third act aria, “O mon Fernand,” is one of the high points of the performance, and when she finally begs his forgiveness, she “pulls all the stops of inspired bel canto” (as the reviewer phrases it). The role of Fernand requires Matthew Polenzani to convey this figure’s evolution from the sensitive, enamored young man to the naïve individual who doesn’t perceive what sort of nasty game is being played with him, and finally to the bull-headed soldier who values his honor more than love. With his wonderfully flexible, attractive tenor, Polenzani combines all of these facets in a convincing role portrait. Mariusz Kwiecień delivers a “virtuosic” portrayal of Alphonse as a man with a surplus of hormones and a deficit of character, underscoring the monarch’s shameless advances with his robust, voluminous baritone. Bass Mika Kares makes Balthasar, the Prior of the monastery at Santiago de Compostela, alternately loveable and fanatical, while Joshua Owen Mills is an appropriately shady Don Gaspar. Elsa Benoit sings Inès, who tries to bring about a reconciliation between Léonor and Fernand. Under the baton of Karel Mark Chichon, the Bavarian State Orchestra and the Staatsoper’s Chorus (prepared by Sören Eckhoff) give a competent account of Donizetti’s score and contribute to the great success of this infrequently performed opera.

- Berlioz: Les Troyens
Conductor: John Nelson
Cast: Michael Spyres, Joyce Di Donato, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Stéphane Degout, Nicolas Courjal, Marianne Crebassa, Hanna Hipp, Cyrille Dubois, Stanislas de Barbeyrac, Philippe Sly, Agnieszka Slawinska, et. al.
Erato 9029576220 (4 CDs + 1 DVD)
Even if it’s not absolutely flawless, this concert performance of Berlioz’s mammoth work from Strasbourg earlier this year is regarded by the reviewer as the best all-around recording of the opera. The “fabulously prepared” Orchestre philharmonique de Strasbourg is led by the Berlioz specialist John Nelson and presents a more gripping, urgent, and uncompromising interpretation than Sir Colin Davis’ second live recording from 2000 with the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique. Sir Colin’s reading is more nuanced, but overall, the Strasbourgers’ is the superior account. Nelson follows the composer’s practice of positioning four groups from the orchestra in various spots around the auditorium – and in this case, an adjacent hall – and creates fascinating, vivid “tonal tableaux” that, paired with the excellent combined Choruses from Strasbourg and Karlsruhe, provide “surround sound” that really draws the listener in. Covering four discs, the opera is performed in its entirety, ballet music included. The first part is dominated by the Cassandre of Marie-Nicole Lemieux, whose somewhat rough, dark, voluminous mezzo possesses almost unlimited power, but which she can scale back to a nearly incorporeal, ghostly piano. In the second part, Joyce Di Donato demonstrates her tremendous vocal and dramatic versatility as a regal Didon with a dark, velvety timbre. This Queen is less a daring ruler and much more a loving woman, and Di Donato makes her overpowering, moving death scene, “Je vais mourir,” heartrending. The mezzo impresses as well with the security of her instrument across all registers and wonderful passaggio. In Michael Spyres, Nelson has an idiomatically French-sounding Énée and not, as the reviewer describes it, a Canio, Otello, or Samson on a quick visit to Carthage. Spyres’ singing makes it plain that Berlioz’s music draws its influence from Rossini rather than any of the verismo composers, and he delivers a rendition of “Inutile regrets” with marvelous ease and a secure top, even if he doesn’t quite attain the emphasis Bryan Hymel brings to the part. He allows the listener to hear Énée’s wistful, lyrical side, and his great duet with Di Donato displays a perfect, unified blending of their voices. The set’s third mezzo, Marianne Crebassa, is credible in the breeches role of Énée’s son Ascagne with her youthful, impetuous sound. All of the other parts have been without exception splendidly cast, particularly the Iopas of the young tenor Cyrille Dubois. His “O blonde Cérès” suggests he’s destined for more substantial roles. Philippe Sly is a charismatic Panthée, Stephane Degout a robust Chorèbe, and Stanislas de Barbeyrac an impressive Hélénus and Hylas, with the latter’s chanson, “Vallon sonore,” in the final act one of the “vocal gems” in this recording. Hanna Hipp (Anna) rounds out the strong quartet of mezzos, though Nicolas Courjal’s bass sounds a little pallid in the role of Narbal.

- Strauss: Feuersnot
Conductor: Ulf Schirmer
Cast: Markus Eiche, Simone Schneider, Rouwen Huther, Michael Kupfer, Lars Woldt, Arabella Wäscher. Monica Mascus, Sandra Jahnke, Olena Tokar, Wilhelm Schwinghammer, Ludwig Mittelhammer, Sung Min Song, Jutta Neumann, Andreas Burkhart, et. al.
cpo 7779202 (2 CDs)
With this one-act opera, the young Strauss parodied Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and took a swipe at his own hometown of Munich, where his early compositional efforts had not exactly been a resounding success. Ernst Wolzogen supplied the libretto about the dark knight Kunrad amd the mayor’s daughter Diemut, who must yield her virginity to him (not unwillingly) to restore the fire for Munich’s celebration of St. John’s Day (Midsummer). This work lives on the references to and distancing from Wagner’s text for Die Meistersinger, and Strauss used all his Bavarian humor to craft a resonant symphonic fantasy on the Bayreuth master’s compositional ideas. (He quotes from the Ring operas as well as Die Meistersinger.) Because of the local connection, Feuersnot is often performed in the Bavarian capital and this recording is no exception, with Ulf Schirmer conducting the Munich Radio Orchestra. With its truly noteworthy textual clarity, this two-CD set is very satisfying musically. The “fabulous” baritone Markus Eiche is heard as Kunrad and makes a particularly favorable impression in his midrange and top, as well as with his perfect diction. Simone Schneider’s Diemut initially sounds rather matronly, but also displays increasingly clear, richly colored musical arcs in her upper register. The sonorous Bavarian Radio Chorus and the Children’s Chorus from Munich’s Gärtnerplatz Theater are in excellent form, as are members of the extensive cast. Particular standouts include Rouwen Huther as the Burgrave Schweiker von Gundelfingen, along with Lars Woldt, Michael Kupfer, and Wilhelm Schwinghammer. For opera enthusiasts, this 110-minute work is an intellectual pleasure with its melodic references to Strauss’ own symphonic poems and pieces by his contemporaries such as Engelbert Humperdinck.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Offenbach: Les Contes d’Hoffmann
Conductor: Evelino Pido
Director: John Schlesinger
Cast: Vittorio Grigolo, Thomas Hampson, Kate Lindsey, Christine Rice, Sonya Yoncheva, Sofia Fomina, Eric Halfvarson, Vincent Ordonneau, Jeremy White, Yuriy Yurchuk, et. al.
Sony 88985376619 (1 DVD)
All that’s keeping this video from inclusion among the recommended recordings is Sonya Yoncheva’s Antonia, with her metallic soprano evincing imperiled intonation and occasional wobbles. Otherwise, this production from London’s Royal Opera House has the advantage of Vittorio Grigolo’s stellar Hoffmann, who pairs a commanding stage presence with his velvety, heroic tenor. No less impressive is Thomas Hampson’s versatile embodiment of the four villains, in which he never lapses into overacting. With the fine tonal shadings of his magnificent baritone, he lends each of the figures the necessary dominance and authority. As Giulietta, Christine Rice brings technical assurance along with a fabulous high mezzo with perfectly balanced registers; her mezzo colleague Kate Lindsey is hardly less outstanding in the dual roles of Nicklausse and the Muse. Soprano Sofia Fomina combines vocal and theatrical brilliance as Olympia in a portrayal that draws thunderous cheers from the audience. There are also laudable contributions from Eric Halfvarson and Vincent Ordonneau as the servants, Jeremy White as Luther, and Yuriy Yurchuk as Schlemil. Evelino Pido leads an excellent performance by the ROH Orchestra and Chorus, the latter prepared by William Spaudling. Last year marked the final appearances of John Schlesinger’s production, which had served the house well for decades and which the reviewer cites as one of the “most exquisite” of the stagings that have been retired in recent years.

- Bizet: Carmen
Conductor: Paolo Carignani
Director: Kasper Holten
Cast: Gaëlle Arquez, Daniel Johansson, Scott Hendricks, Elena Tsallagova, et. al.
C Major 742208 (1 DVD)
A production from this year’s Bregenz Festival, this performance is tailored to meet the requirements of the Festival’s stage in the middle of Lake Constance, some cuts included. Instead of stabbing Carmen at the opera’s conclusion, Don José drowns her, and the cigarette factory workers and bullfight participants arrive in boats and even dance in the water. Fortunately, contents of the video were filmed during two performances in which the weather (wind and rain) wasn’t making things rough for those onstage. Es Devlin’s set is dominated by two enormous hands rising out of the lake and appearing to toss about 60 several-meters-long playing cards in the air. All of the cards could be individually illuminated, and three of them are blank, allowing for projections. It’s a real eyeful and harmonizes well with the opera’s plot. Anja Yang Kragh’s costumes are visually appealing, and the DVD suggests how atmospheric the production was and how skillfully director Kasper Holten managed the crowd scenes. Admittedly, it’s difficult for the camera to adequately capture all of the subplot action, set details, or the specific mood that those in the audience at Bregenz could see and experience. Panoramic shots were made at considerable distance from the stage, but in compensation, close-ups reveal how engaged cast members were with their characters. During the final act in particular, Carmen’s vulnerability is evident, and instead of superficial dominance, one catches a glimpse “behind the scenes,” as it were, of the Carmen legend. Although Holten gave detailed explanations of his views on both the opera and its figures in various interviews and the bonus material on the DVD, his statements only correspond to a limited extent to what is seen onstage. In his efforts to create a big show for opera newbies while also offering something of high quality for knowledgeable enthusiasts, he doesn’t entirely escape clichés. From the beginning, Carmen is a stronger presence than everyone else, more attractive and sensuous. In the title role, Gaëlle Arquez pairs good looks with a full, dark mezzo that’s up to all of the part’s lyrical and dramatic demands. With his robust condition and the necessary power for his character’s big moments, Daniel Johansson is the right Don Josë for Bregenz, yet his lean, light tenor is lacking sensuality and stylistic assurance. Elena Tsallgova isn’t an especially satisfying Micaëla, being without either lyrical refinement or vocal luster. Scott Hendricks (Escamillo) often forces his baritone, which no longer sounds as fresh as in his previous appearances in Bregenz, and lacks color as well as dynamic shadings. On the positive side, there is flawless playing by the Vienna Symphony under the baton of Paolo Carignani, who guides the musicians securely through the performance with occasionally brisk tempos and accentuation of effects.

- Vinci: Didone abbandonata
Conductor: Carlo Ipata
Director: Deda Cristina Colonna
Cast: Roberta Mameli, Carlo Allemano, Raffaele Pé, Gabriella Costa, Marta Pluda, Giada Frasconi
Dynamic 37788 (1 DVD)
At the latest with the revival of his Artaserse, Leonardo Vinci has attained a place as one of today’s most admired Baroque opera composers. During his lifetime, he was not only among the most productive and popular tunesmiths, but also a pioneer of the Rococo “galante” style that would characterize the two following generations of composers and still provides a striking contrast to the stricter style of his contemporary Handel. Didone abbandonata was Vinci’s first opera seria consistently written in the “dolce stil nuovo,” while its text marked the first independent drama per musica by Metastasio. Of the many composers who used it as an opera libretto, Vinci was the poet’s favorite. The plot’s slow advance toward the inevitable tragic end is a dramaturgical masterpiece not achieved by other composers who bent and twisted it to achieve the requisite lieto fine. The close collaboration between Vinci and Metastasio on this work “has borne remarkable fruit,” according to the reviewer. Vinci’s score displays ingeniously calculated dramatic tension in relationship to the plot that makes it worthwhile to analyze the opera scene by scene. Of course, one can also enjoy it as beautiful music without being all too deeply moved by the heroine’s plight. The Florence Opera mounted a staged production of the piece at the beginning of this year, a video recording of which has now been released on the Dynamic label. Director Dede Cristina Colonna’s conventional approach relies on a repertoire of proven gestures and one can at least say of it – as well as of Gabriele Vanzinni’s readily comprehensible sets and Monica Iacuzzi’s part fantasy-part vaguely classical costumes – that it doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment of the music. In spite of the fact that Carlo Ipata, an experienced Early Music expert, is on the podium, the playing of the orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino sounds downright apathetic and uninspired. Vinci’s score would likely have been in much better hands with the Maestro’s own HIP ensemble. Roberta Mameli is a musically convincing Dido with her fine lyric soprano and precisely measured phrasing, but from a dramatic standpoint, she remains too cool and distant, so that the reviewer likens her to a singing marble image rather than an impassioned Queen. With his broad vocal production and a tenor lacking in resonance, Carlo Allemano seems to have wandered in from a completely different stylistic epoch. As the Moorish ruler Jarba, countertenor Raffaele Pé uses his well-schooled instrument in a cultivated, spirited manner and doesn’t overdo the figure’s “rustic” character, making his the vocally and dramatically best portrayal among those heard here. The remaining roles have been agreeably filled by Gabriella Costa (Selene), Marta Pluda (Araspe), and Giada Frasconi (Osmida). This recording is also available on CD, though the recording quality of the DVD is better.

- Mozart: Don Giovanni
Conductor: Jérémie Rhorer
Cast: Jean-Sébastien Bou, Robert Gleadow, Myrtò Papatanasiu, Julie Boulianne, Julien Behr, Anna Grevelius, Marc Scoffoni, Steven Humes
Alpha ALPHA379 (3 CDs)
Mozart’s version of the Don Juan legend is probably the best-known of the late 18th century comic operas labelled as a “drama giocosa,” and what the listener hears on this latest contribution to the Don Giovanni discography is indeed a “cheerful drama.” Aside from the intervention of supernatural forces, this opera is filled with the intensity of real life. Recorded last December in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées (some loud stage noises included), this newcomer has little competition to fear where vivid theatricality is involved. Credit for this is due above all to conductor Jérémie Rhorer, who was wrapping up his Mozart cycle with his orchestra Le Cercle de l’Harmonie. Even if he does emphasize some peripheral details more than necessary, one gladly makes allowances for it in consideration of the magnificent total impact of his interpretation and his sensitive support of his singers. One caveat: the listener must really be a committed advocate of historic performance practice to like the extremely low vibrato in the strings. The winds, however, are exemplary and on the whole, the recording sounds fabulous. Another advantage of this set is its unusual completeness, with even the oft-omitted Zerlina-Leporello duet, “Per queste tue manine,” included. Regrettably, the soloists tend to impress more with their acting talents than their vocal opulence. Jean-Sébastien Bou’s Giovanni is a charming seducer with a pleasant timbre, but at the same time often sounds exhausted by his conquests. Robert Gleadow’s Leporello is notable primarily as a vivid interpreter of Da Ponte’s rich text, from which he almost draws more music than from the score. Myrtò Papatanasiu (Donna Anna) has the least to offer with her strained singing that remains pallid and monochromatic. The most appealing voice among the ladies belongs to Julie Boulianne (Donna Elvira), who also precisely captures the particular tone of this woman who is nearly always on the verge of hysteria. Julien Behr is a truly noble and distinguished Don Ottavio who manages to extract astonishing luster from his rather “inconspicuous” tenor through supple phrasing. Anna Grevelius is a charming Zerlina with a slight inclination toward tremolo, but spirited enough to convey the naïve country girl who is the only female to play with Don Giovanni’s fire and not get burned. Marc Scoffini’s likeably awkward Masetto is a plus, though Steven Humes’ Commendatore is a very courteous but hardly frightening stone guest.

HISTORICAL

- Meyerbeer: Les Huguenots (sung in German translation)
Conductor: Stefan Soltesz
Director: John Dew
Cast: Angela Denning, Lucy Peacock, Richard Leech, Hartmut Welker, Camille Capasso, Martin Blasius, et. al.
Euro Arts 8024201988 (1 DVD)
My note: Since a German translation is used instead of the original French text, this video will probably have limited appeal outside of the German-speaking countries.
Dating to 1991, this performance from the Deutsche Oper Berlin is the most recent among the historic recordings reviewed in this issue. Director John Dew transferred the action surrounding the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre from 16th century Paris to the divided Berlin of the Cold War era, with a few Nazi references thrown in as well. In the midst of the pretty, colorful setting, the increasingly threatening aggression of the Catholic party explodes like a bomb. Dew was a very capable craftsman, and his staging is “crowned” by the singular performance of Berlin’s young tenor discovery at the time, Richard Leech, in the role of Raoul de Nangis. His voice possessed a triumphantly gleaming top, and he delivered high notes and shaped long melodic arcs filled with tonal luster. His contribution alone makes this production worth seeing and hearing. The part of Raoul seems even larger than usual here due to the drastic cuts in the part of the zealot Marcel. In the third act, only 10 minutes of this character’s music remain unshorn, with the most important passages that depict his religious fanaticism missing. Perhaps it’s just as well, though, since the young Martin Blasius was in over his head with Marcel. His intonation is already insecure in the first act couplet and completely out of control in the final prayer and concluding stretta trio, in which he’s joined by the “cheerfully sparkling” harp. That the inadequacies of such an essential figure do little to damage Dew’s staging speaks for its quality. However, Meyerbeer’s intentions pretty much come a cropper as a consequence. Among other soloists, Hartmut Welker’s baritone is lacking the beautiful top for Saint-Bris, while Lucy Peacock – in contrast to Pilar Lorengar, who sang Valentine at the premiere – is too lightweight, her top insufficiently sweeping and powerful. Angela Denning’s Marguerite de Valois also suffered from a number of cuts, which prevented her from developing this figure’s necessary stature, and the refinement of her singing can’t fully compensate for absurd costuming. On the podium, Stefan Soltesz shows an unerring dramatic sense for melos, sentiment, and orchestral force during the score’s “somnambulant” tempos, and the DOB orchestra plays “ambitiously.” Kudos are also given to Chorus Master Georg Metz for the precision with which his singers perform.

- Bellini: I Capuleti et i Montecchi
Conductor: Claudio Abbado
Cast: Giacomo Aragall, Margherita Rinaldi, Luciano Pavarotti, Walter Monachesi, Nicola Zaccaria
Istituto Discografico Italiano 6709/10 (2 CDs)
Giacomo (Jaume) Aragall’s tenor was so unique and captivating that no one who ever heard him sing Faust, Cavaradossi, or Don Carlo could forget it. Early in his career, he also included Romeo in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi in his repertoire, and his portrayal is documented in this digitally remastered 1966 live recording from Den Haag. (In the mid-20th century, it wasn’t so unusual for this mezzo role to be assigned to a tenor instead.) Soprano Margherita Rinaldi is somewhat overtaxed by Giulietta, with her intonation losing focus during the more dramatic passages in the first act. Up to Aragall’s standard are Nicola Zaccaria in the small role of Capellio and the young Luciano Pavarotti as Romeo’s rival Tebaldo. This performance is also distinguished by the extraordinary sensitivity of another young talent, Claudio Abbado, on the podim of the Residentie Orkest Den Haag. He instinctively breathes with his musicians and singers, allowing tempo modifications that are miles away from the unmotivated mad dash served up by Riccardo Muti when given the same opportunities.
(My note: This new release should not be confused with an existing recording on the Opera d’Oro label, which also includes Aragall and Pavarotti as Romeo and Tebaldo and has Claudio Abbado leading a performance at La Scala.)

Donizetti: Gemma di Vergy
Conductor: Eve Queler
Cast: Montserrat Caballé, Luis Lima, Louis Quilico, Natalya Chudy, Paul Plishka, et. al.
Sony 88985470342 (2 CDs)
Donizetti’s 1834 tragic opera is based on Alexandre Dumas père’s Charles VII chez ses grands vassaux, and deals with Gemma, the wife of Count di Vergy, whose childlessness has prompted her husband to obtain an annulment of their marriage and replace her with Ida de Greville. Things go from bad to worse when the Count is murdered by the Arab slave Tamas, who is secretly in love with Gemma.
In the final decades of the 20th century, the Opera Orchestra of New York and its conductor, Eve Queler, specialized in the rediscovery and performance of seldom-heard works by major composers. Among their revivals were Massenet’s Le Cid, Verdi’s Aroldo, Strauss’ Guntram, Giordano’s Fedora, and Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore di tre re. Gemma di Vergy was part of OONY’s 1977 season and was recorded on the CBS label, with that recording now reissued in CD format by Sony. The label gets a rap on the knuckles from the reviewer for the skimpy accompanying booklet that contains little information beyond a track listing. The concert at Carnegie Hall featured an all-star cast headed by Montserrat Caballé as Gemma. She infuses the role with all the magnificence of her opulent soprano and doesn’t overdo the use of piano, though not all of her acuti are especially beautiful. Louis Quillico, a baritone mainstay on the Met’s roster at the time, is an exemplary Count with his attractive timbre, expressiveness, and a voice that flows evenly on the breath. Luis Lima as Tamas displays many of the same virtues, and it’s unfortunate that there are so few recordings with this tenor available. Paul Plishka, another Met stalwart, brings a truly beautiful bass to the part of Guido, Count di Vergy’s confidante. Led by Maestra Queler, the orchestra plays with impressive engagement.

MAuer
November 4th, 2017, 11:42 AM
There’s an interesting assortment of recordings reviewed in the November, 2017, issue of Opernwelt (https://www.der-theaterverlag.de/opernwelt/opernwelt/). Here’s the summary:

RECOMMENDED

- Stradella: Santa Pelagia
Conductor/orchestra: Andrea De Carlo, Ensemble Mare Nostrum
Soloists: Roberta Mameli (soprano), Raffaele Pé (countertenor), Luca Cervoni (tenor), Sergio Foresti (baritone)
Arcana A431 (1 CD)
Together with his Ensemble Mare Nostrum, conductor Andrea De Carlo has initiated the “Stradella Project” dedicated to the works of one of the most important Italian composers of the late 17th century. They’ve already recorded several of his oratorios, and the series continues with this release of another – Santa Pelagia, which deals with a prostitute turned saint. An earlier recording of this piece was made 10 years ago by a different orchestra, but De Carlo interprets the only available source material differently than his predecessor. He detected additions from some other composer’s hand in the instrumental ritornelles and accompanying “voices,” so his version is limited to singers and basso continuo. The excellent soloists and colorful playing of the continuo group make this a gripping account of Stradella’s highly expressive music even with the pared-down approach.

- Schubert: Overtures, Romances, and Arias
Daniel Behle (tenor)
Conductor/orchestra: Michi Gaigg, L'Orfeo Barockorchester
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88985407212 (1 CD)
In spite of such advocates as Claudio Abbado and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Schubert’s operas have never gained a place in the mainstream repertoire. The reviewer asks rhetorically how many of us can name an aria of one of Schubert’s “non-heroes.” So it’s laudable that Daniel Behle has taken on the challenge of recording an album devoted to these individuals “who live in the deep shaft of their emotions.” The characteristic lack of dramatic conflict in Schubert’s operas – a consequence of Metternich’s restoration – is compensated for by a musical, poetic “transfiguration” of strong or intimate feelings, and Behle offers memorably eloquent interpretations. In Pedro’s aria from Claudine von Villa Bella, he convinces through the intensity of his declamation, with impressive tonal concentration on the dramatic accents. He captivates with his bel canto-esque messa di voce effects, something Schubert probably acquired from his teacher Salieri. In the recitative of the title character from the Singspiel fragment Andrast, Behle lets every word stand in precise relief, gives every syllable form and every vowel the right color. A high point of this disc is the hero’s scene from Fierrabras, “Was quälst du mich, o Missgeschick . . . In tiefbewegter Brust.” The only blemish here is Behle’s habit of using aspirates to manage ornamentation. The L’Orfeo Baroque Orchestra led by Michi Gaigg gently revels in the delicate instrumental coloration, particularly the subtle use of woodwinds, in Schubert’s music. The recording label gets a black mark, however, for the accompanying booklet, with font and color choices that make the text nearly impossible to read, and a failure to identify the opera from which each aria comes and the character who sings it.

- Hanns Eisler: Lieder und Balladen, vol. 1
Holger Falk (baritone), Steffen Schleiermacher (pianist)
MDG MDG6132001 (1 CD)
Selected as the November issue’s CD of the Month, this album is the first installment of a four-disc project by baritone Holger Falk and pianist Steffen Schleiermacher dedicated to the Berlin composer Hanns Eisler. The reviewer quotes Walter Benjamin’s 1935 observation that Fascism leads to the “aestheticization” of political life, and Communism answers it by the politicization of art. That certainly applied to Eisler, who wrote the song “Lob von Kommunismus” (Praise of Communism) in 1931, and 18 years later penned the national anthem of the former German Democratic Republic. Not surprisingly, Eisler’s music became famous in the GDR, while his street ballads were received in the Federal Republic with about as much enthusiasm as a case of bad breath. Most of Eisler’s 500 songs were set to texts by Bertolt Brecht (primarily) and Kurt Tucholsky, and often performed by Ernst Busch, the “Tauber of the barricades.” The composer described his work as “struggle music” and proclaimed that “the struggle song is the actual folksong of the proletariat.” In the past decades, only a few of the major Lied interpreters – Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Matthias Goerne, Dietrich Henschel – performed any of Eisler’s pieces. Some mild apprehension about dealing with the composer’s brand of agitprop and its references to class conflict was evident. Typical is the street ballad “Bankenlied,” written in the aftermath of the New York Stock Exchange crash of 1929, which Falk and Schleiermacher use as the introductory number on this recording. (The text has lost little of its relevancy over the past 88 years.) Falk’s lean, light voice is of the type of the baryton martin, with an easy top reaching to the A just below high C; in the lower octave, the voice is less resonant. His color palette is dominated by the fine, light shades favored by the Impressionists. Like the French baritones Pierre Bernac and Charles Panzéra, Falk is a masterful “word artist” who possesses both the soft intonation of a Diseur and the harsh, commanding tone of a drill sergeant. He doesn’t hesitate to deliver agitprop slogans with the rhetorical emphasis of a Bänkelsänger (balladeer or ballad monger), whether in “Solidaritätslied,” “Keenen Sechser in der Tasche,” the “Ballad vom Baum und Ästen,” or the “Einheitsfrontlied,” used by the Komintern in 1934 to call for marches against the Nazis. The manner in which Falk lends force to the political rhetoric while breaking its pathos with ironic exaggeration evinces a high degree of artistic perception. In Steffen Schleiermacher, he has a keyboard partner who is as subtle as he is energetic.

- G. A. Ristori: Cantatas for Soprano and Oboe Concerto
Conductor/orchestra: Johannes Pramsohler, Ensemble Diderot
With María Savastano (soprano) and Jon Olaberria (oboe)
Audax ADX13711 (1 CD)
Giovanni Antonio Ristori was among the most renowned composers of the first half of the 18th century, and as music director at the court in Dresden, worked in one of the most creative musical centers of the time. Now conductor Johannes Pramsohler, his “exquisite” Ensemble Diderot, and soprano Maria Savastano have recorded three of his chamber cantatas written for Crown Princess Maria Antonia, and they perform these works with the greatest engagement. The highly gifted young royal not only penned the texts for these pieces, but also sang the solo parts. Savastano proves herself an ideal interpreter of this music, characterized by the reviewer as “opera scenes en miniature,” with her versatile, nuanced treatment of the verses. She is perfectly supported by the instrumentalists, who also demonstrate their facility in the art of Klangrede (music as speech, a term coined by Harnoncourt) in the Oboe Concerto performed by Jon Olaberra.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Steffani: Baccanali
Conductor: Antonio Greco
Cast: Nicolò Donini, Riccardo Angelo Strano, Barbara Massaro, Vittoria Magnarello, Paola Leoci, Elena Caccamo, Chiara Manese, Yasushi Watanabe
Dynamic CDS7770 (2 CDs)
At the latest since Cecilia Bartoli’s championing of Agostino Steffani’s music and the release in 2015 of two recordings in short succession of his opera Niobe, announcement of a new recording of another opera by this “magnificent composer” is certain to be met with great anticipation. This performance of Baccanali, his last opera written for the court in Hannover, comes from the 2016 Festival della Valle d’Itria in Martina Franca. One’s listening pleasure is limited by the widely varying quality of the young singers in the cast and the occasionally diffuse sound. However, there is still much enjoyment to be found in the inspired music of this short opera, in which Steffani integrated elements of French style in his Italian opera in a way that was uniquely his own.

- Lehár: Der Graf von Luxemburg
Conductor: Eun Sun Kim
Cast: Daniel Behle, Camilla Nylund, Louise Alder, Simon Bode, Sebastian Geyer, Margit Neubauer, Ludwig Mittelhammer, Ingyu Hwang, et. al.
Oehms Classics OC968 (2 CDs)
In the plot of this early 20th century operetta, the impoverished Count of the title tries to solve his money problems by entering into a sham marriage with the Parisian opera singer Angèle Didier at the behest of his pal, Russian Prince Basil Basilovitch, who wants to wed the lady himself but cannot do so since she’s a commoner. As the gents plan it, she’ll divorce Count René after three months, and as a Countess, be a suitable match for the Prince. Of course, things don’t go as planned; René and Angèle fall in love, and the Tsar orders Basil to keep his promise to marry the Countess Stasa Kosokov, to whom he was previously engaged. After assorted complications, everything ends happily, including for the secondary couple, the Count’s artist pal Armand Brissard and his lady-love, the dancer and model Juliette Vermont.
On balance, this live recording from the Frankfurt Opera has far more pluses than minuses. Under the baton of Eun Sun Kim, the Frankfurt Opera and Museum Orchestra combines musical vitality with instrumental polish in their account of Lehár’s score while avoiding any hint of sentimentality. A cast of guest soloists and house ensemble members leave little to be desired. Daniel Behle sings the titular Count with a lean, elegant, unstrained tenor, though he doesn’t capture the charisma of this rogue. Camilla Nylund isn’t quite ideally cast as Angèle, as she isn’t always able to sufficiently tame her Wagner soprano. At least on the recording, Sebastian Geyer sounds too young and lyrical for the middle-aged Prince Basil. According to the enclosed booklet, Frankfurt used a new dialogue arrangement based on the operetta’s second version, with revisions made for Berlin in 1937. Unfortunately, one would never know it from listening to these discs, as the recording only contains the musical numbers and makes the listener who wants to follow the plot rely on the synopsis and track listings.

- Lehár: Der Graf von Luxemburg
Conductor: Walter Goldschmidt
Director: Wolfgang Glück
Cast: Eberhard Wächter, Lilian Sukis, Erich Kunz, Peter Fröhlich, Helga Papouschek, Jane Tilden, Kurt Sowinetz
Arthaus Musik 101626 (1 DVD)
This DVD of a 1972 made-for-TV production of Der Graf von Luxemburg is, for the most part, a welcome addition to the operetta discography. The Viennese cabaret legend Hugo Wiener (yes, that’s his real name) showed plenty of dramaturgical skill in adapting the operetta to film, including the dialogue with its inconspicuous humor. Director Wolfgang Glück, set designer Gerd Staub, and costume designer Irms Pauli conjure the atmosphere of the years prior to World War I and show stylistically assured taste – which is more than can be said for Bert Grunds’ arrangement, which has watered down Lehár’s score ro the point of resembling pop music. The cast includes the late 20th century’s greats from Vienna’s State Opera and Burgtheater. As Prince Basil, Erich Kunz isn’t the usual comic oaf, but a gentleman from top to toe who is almost touching as a tragicomic figure. With his virile baritone, Eberhard Wächter makes a credible young bon vivant as Count René, while the wax doll charm of Lilian Sukis’ Angèle suits this dance hall diva who is really more the projection of male fantasies than a real woman. Peter Fröhlich and Helga Papouschek are a likable duo as Armand Brissard and Juliette Vermont; Kurt Sowinetz and Jane Tilden are delightful in the small roles of the phony registry office official and the filthy rich aunt.

- Lehár: Die Juxheirat (The Joke Marriage)
Conductor: Marius Burkert
Cast: Gerhard Ernst, Maya Boog, Alexander Kaimbacher), Sieglinde Feldhofer, Ilia Staple, Rita Peterl, Yevgeniy Taruntsov, Anna-Sophie Kostal, Christoph Filler, Tomaž Kovačič
cpo 5550492 (2 CDs)
Not one of Lehár’s better-known operettas, Die Juxheirat premiered in December, 1904, at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien. The libretto by Julius Bauer sets events in Newport (presumably the one in Rhode Island), where the billionaire Thomas Brockwiller wants his daughter Selma to marry his business partner, the German-American Harold von Reckenburg. Widowed after an unhappy union, Selma’s had her fill of men, however, to the extent of founding a group called Los von Männer (Rid of Men), abbreviated LVM. Harold’s sister Juliane, who was once engaged to the late Baron von Wilfort before he ditched her to wed Selma with her bigger dowry, gets wind of the widow’s refusal to marry again and decides to help her brother while getting a bit of revenge on her former rival. Under a false name, she joins LVM and as a supposed friend of Juliane, manages to persuade Selma that Harold is actually a woman with a penchant for masquerading as a man. Selma then consents to the match, believing her prospective bridegroom is, in fact, female. No sooner have she and Harold exchanged vows when she discovers otherwise, as her new sister-in-law appears at the nuptials in her own identity. Selma furiously storms out of the ballroom in Daddy’s mansion. Of course, she finally falls in love with Harold, the LVM collapses, and its members tie the knot with their respective gentlemen. (In a subplot, two members named Eugenia and Phoebe are rivals for the affections of the Brockwiller chauffeur, Philly Kaps; he ends up with Phoebe.)
The score and text of this operetta are filled with countless musical, literary, and philosophical references that extend from Wagner parodies to quotes from Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. In the dance trio of the second act, one of the wittiest numbers of the work, the depiction of women by the great (male) poets and thinkers is heartily mocked. The big emotions that characterize Lehár’s later operettas have no place in this nonsensical send-up. There are very few arias, but rather couplet-like numbers, duets, trios, and extravagant final ensembles. The music is distinguished more by spirited rhythms than melodic inventiveness. This is a live recording of a semi-staged performance of Die Juxheirat at last year’s Lehár Festival in Bad Ischl, and even in this audio format, one can detect the enthusiasm of those involved. In the role of Selma, which really doesn’t have as much music as one might expect for a central figure, Maya Boog is only prima unter pares; it’s the secondary couple of Phoebe and Philly who really “clean up” in this regard. Conductor Marius Burkert and the Franz Lehár Orchestra provide an appropriately lively, atmospheric sound.

- Jonas Kaufmann: “L’Opéra”
Conductor/orchestra: Bertrand de Billy, Bavarian State Orchestra
With Sonya Yoncheva (soprano) and Ludovic Tézier (baritone)
Arias and duets by Gounod, Bizet, Massenet, Lalo, Offenbach, Meyerbeer, Halévy, Berlioz, and Thomas
Sony 88985390762 (1 CD)
In his latest album, which is devoted to French opera, the superstar tenor is up to the high expectations of Francophone listeners. His pronunciation, articulation, and the melding of text and music are exemplary. He can tell the difference between the 15 vowel sounds (nasal included), and only rarely does the liquid “R” emerge as a rounded sound. What’s really decisive here, though, is the perceptible joy in the shaping of words that pulses in his singing. When Werther is torn from his dreams by the “soufflé du printemps,” one hears a poet in love with the language. However, Kaufmann’s poet is dreaming of his lost youth in more than just his portrayals of Roméo, Werther, Wilhelm Meister, or the Chevalier de Grieux; he may also be recalling the temps perdu of his vocal youth. Particularly in his midrange and the passaggio, the full voice no longer sounds free and fresh, but dull and even rough. The upper register lacks the gleaming brilliance of the best tenors heard in this repertoire – Léon Escalaïs, César Vezzani, Gaston Micheletti, José Luccioni, Miguel Villabella, Alain Vanzo, Nicolai Gedda – or even Ben Heppner. His fortissimo in “Pourquoi me réveiller” does have a metallic core, but doesn’t sound steady. He compensates for the slight beat in the final note by shifting into voix mixte, which he also employs for the high B in Don José’s Flower Song and in Roméo’s “Ah! lève-toi, soleil,” and that really is something wonderful. He fills the Aubade from Lalo’s Le roi d’Ys and the lyrical phrases at the beginning of Vasco da Gama’s aria with caressing tones. But in the phrase, “dont mes yeux sont ravis,” from the same aria, he can’t develop a blazing crescendo and the high B at the end sounds squeezed. He often relies on soft singing. The only problem is that Des Grieux’s “En fermant les yeux” comes across more like a skillful mezza voce exercise than a lyrical idyll. In contrast, during the seduction scene at Saint Sulpice with Sonya Yoncheva’s Manon, the Chevalier transforms into what the reviewer calls a half-brother to Mascagni’s Turiddu. With Hoffmann’s “Ô Dieu, de quelle ivresse” and Énée’s “Inutile regrets,” Kaufmann has chosen arias from roles that illness prevented him from singing. In the andante segment of the latter (“Ah! quand viendra l’instant”), he again relies on mezza voce, but the following allegro agitato turns into a struggle with both the transitional C and the three accentuated high Bs at the end. Even when the character of his voice corresponds well with the figures of Rodrigue in Massenet’s Le Cid or Éléazar in Halévy’s La Juive, he doesn’t do justice to the pathos in their “secularized prayers” in the way Caruso did in his recordings. But for all the admiration one feels for the tenor’s vocal intentions and skillful use of mezza voce, the reviewer’s biggest gripe is the impression that Kaufmann tries to lull the listener with crafty “tricks of the trade.” For example, his piano often sounds like the murmuring of a crooner in romantic songs. He’s supported by a recording technique that places him at the front of the orchestral backdrop, and the orchestra itself doesn’t do much more than provide a soundtrack.

- Boccherini: Aria da Concerto
Conductor/orchestra: Bart Naessens, Capriola di Gioia
Soloist: Amaryllis Dieltiens (soprano)
Evil Penguin Records Classic EPRC 0023 (1 CD)
Today, Luigi Boccherini is best known for one of his minuets, which isn’t even among his finest work. That he could also write for the voice has almost been overlooked in the rediscovery of his magnificent concert and chamber music compositions. Only his Stabat Mater for soprano and strings has drawn appreciable notice. The Dutch soprano Amaryllis Dieltiens recorded it five years ago along with some arias set to texts by Metastasio that Boccherini referred to as “arie accademiche” and intended for use in concert programs. On this new CD, where she is again accompanied by the ensemble Capriola di Gioia conducted by her husband, Bart Naessens, she presents seven pieces that the composer compiled in a collection between 1786 and 1797. Although it’s not certain when and for whom they were written, the style indicates they were probably penned early in his career. Dieltiens sings these arias with a lean, flexible voice but only a limited spectrum of tonal colors.

SAVE YOUR MONEY

- Rolando Villazón and Ildar Abdrazakov: Duets
Conductor/orchestra: Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal
Excerpts from operas by Bizet, Donizetti, Boito, Verdi, Gounod; selections by Augustin Lara and Florian Hermann
Deutsche Grammophon 4796901 (1 CD)
The reviewer is already irritated by the PR hype in the booklet accompanying this album, and what’s contained on the CD doesn’t make him any happier. In the well-known duet from Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles, Rolando Villazón displays an overly bright top and constricted sound throughout his range, while Ildar Abdrazakov with his rough bass is on the wrong terrain in this piece. The two singers don’t seem to have found very much in their search for tenor-bass duets. (The reviewer asks which composer ever wrote with the goal of such a combination.) So Villazón and Abdrazakov are usually heard in (sung) dialogue exchanges, and when the voices are as squeezed as they are in the Nemorino-Dulcamara duet from L’elisir d’amore, they start to stumble. It’s easy to detect the intentions of a singer who knows how to phrase with Villazón, as in Ernesto’s “Sogno soave e casto” from Don Pasquale, but his voice becomes thin with closed vowels in the passaggio, or stiff with the slightest pressure. The Faust-Méphistophélès scene from the first act of Gounod’s opera turns into a stress test for him, a style test for Abdrazakov, and a language test for both of them. Much the same can be said of the Don José-Escamillo scene from Carmen, which becomes little more than self-torture for the duo. The duet arrangements from Lara’s Granada and the Russian song from Hermann’s Dark Eyes that close the disc are regarded by the reviewer as nothing but a “good joke.”

MAuer
December 1st, 2017, 12:34 PM
There are no new opera recordings among the items reviewed in the December, 2017, issue of Das Opernglas (https://www.opernglas.de/), but a variety of solo albums, a few crossover items, and this magazine’s annual look at new Christmas releases. Here’s the summary:

RECOMMENDED

- Angela Gheorghiu: “Eternamente (The Verismo Album)”
Conductor/orchestra: Emmanuel Villaume, Prague Philharmonia
With Joseph Calleja (tenor) and Richard Novak (bass)
Excerpts from operas by Mascagni, Puccini, Boito, Ponchielli, Giordano, and Leoncavallo; songs by Donaudy, Refice, and Mascheroni
Warner Classics 9029578024 (1 CD)
It’s been six years since Angela Gheorghiu last released a solo album, and to judge from this new recording, it was worth the wait. Her voice remains in very good condition with its unmistakable, glowing beauty, and she knows how to sing verismo – especially when a piece expresses pain, melancholy, or emotion. This repertoire is her strong suit, especially emphasized by her rendition of Santuzza’s and Gioconda’s arias. The latter’s “Suicido!” does push her soprano to its limits, so that it often threatens to lose its attractive center. One occasionally notices a strong vibrato, too, which the reviewer attributes to her instrument’s maturation process. But while Gioconda will probably never be one of her parade roles, she really shines in some of the duets here with the temperament, drama, and power she brings to her portrayals. She has a congenial partner in Joseph Calleja with his equally distinctive timbre. The two deliver “pure verismo” in the long duet from the fourth act of Andrea Chénier with their impassioned interpretation, radiant high notes, and almost effortless singing. Giordano is also represented on this disc by an aria from his seldom-heard Siberia, which has a nearly operetta-like sweetness. Gheorghiu phrases this piece wonderfully, and in another rarity, a selection from Leoncavallo’s Zingari, sounds quite merry and high-spirited. It’s enough to make one wish to hear her in staged productions of these works. That she can also sing with fine dynamic gradations is demonstrated by her accounts of Margherita’s “Spunta l’aurora pallida” from Boito’s Mefistofele and Tosca’s “Vissi d’arte.” The soloists receive exemplary support from conductor Emmanuel Villaume and the flawlessly playing Prague Philharmonic.

- Pretty Yende: “Dreams”
Conductor/orchestra: Giacomo Sagripanti, Giuseppe Verdi Sinfonica di Milano
With Mattia Olivieri (baritone), Carlo Lepore (bass), Piero Pretti (tenor), and Ilaria Sicignano (mezzo)
Arias by Gounod, Donizetti, Bellini, and Meyerbeer
Sony 88985430152 (1 CD)
If more than half a decade elapsed between Angela Gheorghiu’s recital albums, it was only a year ago that soprano Pretty Yende released her debut CD. The content of this disc and the previous one is similar in that both concentrate on the Italian bel canto operas, with a few excursions into the French repertoire. The largest selection here is the great Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor, which the reviewer likens to putting her voice’s potential under a magnifying glass, revealing an attractive timbre paired with masterful technique and great characterization, the last-named illustrated by her addition of her own cadenzas. And for all her virtuosity, Yende has more to offer than fluid coloratura and “stupendous” high notes (up to high F). Her midrange is surprisingly colorful and substantive, elevating her expressive capabilities above those of the lighter coloraturas. She gives an exemplary account of Dinorah’s “Ombre légère” that’s much more than a display of vocal pyrotechnics, and her rendition of the sleepwalking scene from La Sonnambula makes one look forward to her already-scheduled stage debut as Amina. Only the great scene from Bellini’s La Straniera evinces some limits in drama and attack. She is competently partnered by Giacomo Sagripanti and the Giuseppe Verdi Sinfonica di Milano, while tenor Piero Pretti is among the best of the supporting soloists.

- Sabine Devieilhe: “Mirages”
Conductor/orchestra: François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles
With Marianne Crebassa (mezzo soprano) and Alexandre Tharaud (pianist)
French opera arias and songs
Erato 9029576772 (1 CD)
After release of her “exquisite” Mozart CD a year ago, Sabine Devieilhe has followed that with an equally enchanting album devoted to the French repertoire and some of its fragile heroines. Most of the program is centered on opera arias, but there are also some art songs and Berlioz’s ballad, La mort d’Ophélie, included. The disc begins with the delicate “Le jour sous le soleil béni” from Messager’s Madame Chrysanthème, which introduces a colorful succession of alternately appealing and virtuoso selections. In the Bell Song from Lakmé, Devieilhe captivates with her “magical” tone and effortless high notes, and she delivers an impressive account of Ophelia’s breakneck “mad” aria from Thomas’ Hamlet. One will probably not hear a more beautiful rendition of the duet, “Viens, Mallika,” from Lakmé than the one contained here, with the soprano joined by mezzo Marianne Crebassa. There is sensitive support from François-Xavier Roth and the orchestra Les Siècles. In Debussy’s La romance d’Ariel and Charles Koechlin’s Le voyage, she’s accompanied by pianist Alexandre Tharaud.

- Lena Belkina: “Classic Vienna”
Conductor/orchestra: Andrea Sanguineti, ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra
Arias by Mozart, Haydn, and Gluck
Sony 88985441842 (1 CD)
Although the enclosed booklet indicates that mezzo Lena Belkina’s new CD of arias by Mozart, Haydn, and Gluck deals with characters in dire emotional straits, her program doesn’t contain a selection of “mad scenes,” as one might suspect. In fact, the reviewer finds the theme so generic that it could be applied to many arias, among them Sesto’s “Parto, parto,” from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, Idamante’s “Il padre adorato,” or Orfeo’s “Che puro ciel,” all of which are heard on this disc. Belkina’s voice is not always perfectly rounded and could be more relaxed in register transitions, but on the whole, her dark instrument with its somewhat chesty low register is a pleasure to listen to. Especially successful is the dramatic “Berenice, che fai?” from Haydn’s Scena di Berenice. The mezzo skillfully shapes the recitative passages, uses calm moments to build dramatic tension, and creates a mini-drama without resorting to forcing. There are also kudos for the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra led by Andrea Sanguineti for their polished, fresh playing and instrumental soloists who harmonize perfectly with the singer.

- Nathalie Stutzmann: “Quella Fiamma - Arie Antiche”
Conductor/orchestra: Nathalie Stutzmann, Orfeo 55
Songs by A. Scarlatti, Durante, Falconieri, Caccini, Carissimi, Conti, Parisotti, Martini, and Fasolo; arias by Handel, A. Scarlatti, Bononcini, Legrenzi, Cavalli, Paisiello, Cesti, and Caldara; instrumental works by Porpora, Marcello, Capricornus, and Marini
Erato 9029576529 (1 CD)
This new recording by mezzo/conductor Nathalie Stutzmann and her ensemble Orfeo 55 is focused on a collection of Early Music pieces (arie antiche) published near the end of the 19th century by the Roman composer Alessandro Parisotti. At the time, there was great interest in Italy for forgotten music of the 17th and 18th centuries. However, Stutzmann doesn’t use Parisotti’s piano accompaniments, but instead partly researched and partly reconstructed the original instrumentation for Orfeo 55, which consists of oboe, cello, harp, and theorbo. The result is a “bouquet” of arias that are as deeply felt as they are engaging, with Handel’s “Ah, mio cor, scernito sei” from Alcina and “Piangerò la sorte mia” from Giulio Cesare especially impressive. Less familiar composers heard here, such as Caccini, Conti, Porpora, Caldara, and Bononcini, also have much to offer and sound fabulous when sung in Stutzmann’s dark, velvety voice.

- Gerald Finley: “Sibelius: In the Stream of Life”
Conductor/orchestra: Edward Gardner, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Swedish songs by Sibelius
Chandos CHSA5178 (1 SACD)
Though Sibelius is regarded as a Finnish composer, his native language was actually Swedish. (My note: Finland has an ethnic Swedish minority, among whose members is the soprano Camilla Nylund.) So it’s probably not surprising that many of his songs for baritone and piano were set to Swedish texts. He sensed, however, that he’d really conceived these pieces for orchestral accompaniment and subsequently prepared orchestral arrangements for some of them. Among them is “Koskenlaskijan morsiamet,” a 10-minute ballad about a young man seduced by a nixie, along with “Kum nu hit, död,” the “exceptionally atmospheric” nocturne “I natten,” and “På verandan vid havet,” all of which are included on this CD by Gerald Finley. The baritone sings these mystical, nature-inspired selections with engagement and perceptible love. The album’s title is borrowed from a cycle of seven Sibelius songs compiled and orchestrated by the composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, who died at the end of last year. Finley debuted this work in 2014 in Bergen’s Grieg Hall with Rautavaara present, and two years later, recorded this disc in the same facility with Edward Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. Gardner, the ensemble’s new Music Director, also recorded some of Sibelius’ orchestral works on this disc with his band. Their renditions of Pohjola’s Daughter, The Oceanides, and Romance, op. 42, will delight any Sibelius fan.

- Marlis Petersen: “Dimensionen Welt: Mensch und Lied”
Stephan Matthias Lademann (pianist)
Lieder by Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, Schubert, Sommer, Brahms, Koch, and Wagner
Solo Musica SM 274 (1 CD)
The German soprano has been equally successful as an opera singer and Lied interpreter, and it’s in the latter capacity she’s heard on this new CD. The recording is part of what will be a three-disc trilogy in which Petersen uses Lieder to focus attention on “the beauty of our planet and the gift of being here.” She always develops her recital programs with a great deal of consideration, thinks over every point, and tries to bring everything together in a great whole. This one is no exception. The songs have been divided into thematic groupings labeled “Heaven and Earth,” “Humankind and Nature,” “Lot (fate) and Insight,” and “Hope and Longing,” culminating in Hans Sommer’s “Conclusio.” This may sound very philosophical and may not be helpful for every listener, but one gladly overlooks the pathos when one hears such nuanced, intimate interpretations of Lieder by Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms. Particularly appealing in Petersen’s selection of material was her decision to include less-known pieces and composers along with the familiar ones. She has a congenial partner in pianist Matthias Lademann.

- Marianne Crebassa: “Secrets”
Fazil Say (pianist)
Songs by Debussy, Ravel, Fauré, Duparc, and Say
Erato 9029576897 (1 CD)
The “secrets” in the French mezzo’s new album are her own, as she explores her thoughts with the help of songs by Debussy, Ravel, Fauré, and Duparc. She relies on her early experiences, mentioning the “wave of melancholy” that overwhelms her when she recalls the wonderful seaside from her childhood that Debussy so impressively conjures in his music. According to the reviewer, the longer one listens to this disc, the easier it becomes to let one’s mind roam and forget the noise and hectic pace of daily life. Crebassa’s elegant, refined, and always very natural singing is paired with the accompaniment of the Turkish composer and pianist Fazil Say, who is also represented on the recording by his own 10-minute ballad, Gezi Park 3. The piece is a musical memorial for demonstrators who protested in late May, 2013, against the planned development of Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Their action provoked the ire of Tayyip Erdoǧan, Turkey’s Prime Minister at the time, and led to violent police intervention. Crebassa’s CD marks the first recording of the piece, which had its world premiere at the 2014 Bremen Music Festival. Though she only sings what the reviewer terms “a succession of notes,” she conveys what must have been the deepest emotions of those involved in the demonstrations.

- Thomas Hampson: “Sérenade”
Maciej Pikulski (pianist)
Songs by Gounod, Bizet, Meyerbeer, Chabrier, Chausson, Massenet, Saint-Saëns, and Magnard
Pentatone PTC5186681 (1 SACD)
The title of the American baritone’s new recital of French mélodies is taken from a “pretty trifle” by Gounod with which the recital begins. With its charming barcarole rhythms, the song probably suited the tastes of the salon audiences at the time. The succeeding 17 selections were also written for the same sort of gathering of aristocrats and wealthy commoners. Young composers used these pleasing pieces to gain notice from society’s movers and shakers who frequented the salons, and many of these tunesmiths received valuable commissions as a result. It’s probably not surprising that quite a few of the composers represented on this disc made a name for themselves in opera. Hampson has chosen wisely from among the countless salon songs in existence, not only with regard to their musical quality but also in consideration of his current vocal condition. It’s a pleasure to listen to his interpretation of mélodies by Bizet, Meyerbeer, Chabrier, Massenet, and Saint-Saëns. His still-attractive baritone retains its silky luster and is immediately captivating. If occasionally he finds himself in spots where he’s not able to use his instrument to best advantage, one gladly overlooks it.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Juan Diego Flórez: Mozart Opera Arias
Conductor/orchestra: Riccardo Minasi, Orchestra La Scintilla
Selections from Idomeneo, Die Zauberflöte, Il re pastore, Don Giovanni, La Clemenza di Tito, Cosi fan tutte, and Die Entführung aus dem Serail, plus the concert aria, “Misero! O sogno ... Aura che intorno spiri,” KV 431
Sony 88985430862 (1 CD)
There’s really a lot to like in Juan Diego Flórez’s first Mozart recording, though the reviewer does seem to have a few reservations. Flórez brings the proven virtues of his voice, including a youthful, fresh tone, lightness, and flexibility that don’t seem to have been affected by his recent forays into heavier material, to his interpretations of Mozart’s music. His tenor gleams in its accustomed manner and leaves the impression of a pristine, weightless shading, spotlessly sparkling runs, and precisely placed high notes. Only now and again, as in Don Ottavio’s “Il mio tesoro” or the arias from La Clemenza di Tito, does one perceive a difference of tonal color in the notes of his midrange and upper register. The latter sound somewhat abrupt and almost convey a sense of relief in the transition to the comparatively restrained, muted phrases in the midrange. Riccardo Minasi leads the La Scintilla orchestra in a very sprightly manner that’s completely attuned to the singer, but his tempo choices are often a little too brisk and create a restless impression. There are undoubtedly more expressive interpretations of these arias among the multitude of Mozart recital discs currently available; Flórez’s strength lies in his impressive vocal capabilities. The result is Mozart in full, if perhaps rather sterile, splendor.

CROSSOVER

- Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov: “Romanza”
Conductor/orchestra: Ben Foster, Session Orchestra London
Songs by Igor Krutoy
Deutsche Grammophon 4798110 (1 CD)
This album features 18 songs and three duets written by Igor Krutoy, a composer friend of Anna Netrebko and her husband, Yusif Eyvazov. The couple is accompanied by the Session Orchestra (“whatever that means,” says the reviewer) from London and Los Angeles. Krutoy’s very bombastic melodies proclaim the omnipotence of love, mostly in Italian texts. (Sample: “I believe in everlasting life in love.”) La Bellissima sings these pieces (the lion’s share of which were written for her) with a pathos suited to the music and the grand gestures of a prima donna. Nonetheless, her magnificent, full soprano occasionally shows some strain as well as a bit too much tremolo – neither of which is likely to bother her countless admirers. In any event, the recording deserves its title.

- Paul Potts: “On Stage”
Conductor and orchestra not identified
Opera arias and songs from musicals
Sony 88697138682 (1 CD)
Paul Potts was the shy cell phone store manager beset by health problems and a lack of self-confidence who was “discovered” 10 years ago when he sang the popular Puccini aria “Nessun dorma” on the television show “Britain’s Got Talent.” Since then, he’s gone on world tours, performed leading roles with a couple of UK amateur opera companies, sung before the Queen twice, and appeared before a million enthusiastic fans in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. His autobiography has been filmed by Hollywood, and now he’ll try to reach the top of the charts with this new CD. He’s made a judicious selection of arias and musical numbers, with the former including excerpts from Tosca, Turandot, and even Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer. Along with songs from The Man of La Mancha, Les Misérables, and West Side Story, they enable him to successfully showcase his talent. Unfortunately, Sony couldn’t be bothered with supplying any information about the conductor or orchestra.

- Oscar Marin: “Luciano”
Conductor/orchestra: Claudia Hirschfeld, Sofia Session Orchestra and Choir
Manuel Music (1 CD single)
Apparently, this is the modern equivalent of the old 45 r.p.m. discs that contained one song on each side. The CD by Spanish tenor Oscar Marin actually contains only one song, but it’s heard in three versions: symphonic, symphonic playback, and pop. Claudia Hirschfeld, a German organist and keyboard player who has performed with assorted leading opera and popular singers over the years, was so moved by Luciano Pavarotti’s funeral 10 years ago that she wrote a poem dedicated to the great tenor and then set it to music. That’s the song “Luciano” that Marin sings on this disc, accompanied by the Sofia Session Orchestra and Choir with Hirschfeld on the podium. Her text is full of the usual highflown accolades and Marin does the piece full justice with his splendid tenor. But the reviewer wonders if Hirschfeld really needed to indulge in so much schmaltz in order to remember one of the 20th century’s greatest tenors.

CHRISTMAS MUSIC

- Ensemble Resonanz: Weihnachtsoratorium
Resonanzraum Records RRR01 (1 CD)
The group Ensemble Resonanz is known for its work with rarities from all musical epochs, but one may wonder what happens when the members take on Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. To put it briefly, an extremely intimate, sensitive interpretation that’s everything but the norm, beginning with an arrangement suited to (among other instruments) electric guitar, bass, and “vintage keyboard.” The group has turned a Christmas classic into very successful “Hausmusik for friends” – music that friends can perform together at home – that gives these excerpts a striking, very personal flair.

- “Veni Domine. Advent and Christmas at the Sistine Chapel”
Deutsche Grammophon 4797524 (1 CD)
The famed Papal choir is heard in Gregorian chant and polyphonic sacred works from the Renaissance on this disc in a wonderfully intimate, contemplative performance. Some of the selections here are based on original manuscripts that have previously been little researched, and convey a very solemn, reserved, and yet festive sound. The world’s oldest choral group, the Sistine Chapel Choir has developed a singing technique attuned to the chapel’s acoustics that the reviewer describes as being “as colorful and multifaceted as Michelangelo’s frescoes.”

- “Festliches Adventkonzert aus der Dresdner Frauenkirche”
Conductor/orchestra: Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Staatskapelle Dresden
With Sonya Yoncheva and Regula Mühlemann (sopranos)
Sony 88985468382 (1 CD)
Every year, the Staatskapelle Dresden gives an Advent concert in the city’s Church of Our Lady with prominent guest soloists. (Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros performed together at this event several years ago.) Last year, Sonya Yoncheva was making her second appearance at the Dresden Advent concert and was joined by the up-and-coming Swiss soprano Regula Mühlemann. Among the selections heard here are (presumably sacred) works by Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Bruckner along with the aria, "Lascia ch’io pianga,” from Handel’s Rinaldo. As is tradition, the program concludes with the guest soloists and Dresden Chamber Choir joining in the German carol, “Macht hoch die Tür’.”

- London Brass: “In dulci jubilo”
Warner 90295770211 (1 CD)
The festive sound of brass instruments has always fit well with the Christmas celebration, so it’s no surprise that many carols have been arranged for brass ensembles. On this disc, the London Brass perform a selection of Baroque pieces by Handel and Vivaldi along with traditional carols such as Praetorius’ “Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen” and seasonal songs from Poland and France.

- Daniel Taylor: “The Tree of Life”
With the Trinity Choir
Sony 88985387032 (1 CD)
The Canadian countertenor and Trinity Choir, the choral group he founded, set a quiet, contemplative mood with this recording that encompasses everything from ancient chants to modern works by Arvo Pärt and Benjamin Britten. These “deeply spiritual” pieces not only deal with religious themes, but also with the darkness and silence of winter with its long nights and (as in “Todesstille”) lingering, distant sun. The reviewer finds this an “inspiring and enriching” listen.

- “Christmas With the King’s Singers”
Warner 90295768096 (1 CD)
On their newest recording, this well-known ensemble of six former choral scholars from Cambridge University’s King’s College presents a selection of international Christmas music sung in a cappella arrangements. The program is a mix of familiar pieces such as “Joy to the World” and “The Little Drummer Boy” along with less well-known carols from Spain.

- “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”
Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist
Sony 88985417412 (1 CD)
From a recording with all male voices to one with only women’s . . . This particular branch of the Dominican order is an offshoot of the Nashville, Tennessee, based Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia and was founded in 1997. Their Motherhouse, in the chapel of which this recording was made, is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, though members teach in Catholic schools scattered throughout the United States. To mark the 20th anniversary of their founding, they recorded this concert of traditional Christmas carols along with some that they composed, such as “Snowflakes.” The reviewer finds it “a very personal and warm-hearted document.”

- Carl Heinrich Graun: Weihnachtsoratorium
Conductor/orchestra: Thomas Gropper, L’arpa festante
Chorus: Arcis-Vokalisten
Soloists: Monika Mauch (soprano), Marion Eckstein (contralto), Georg Poplutz (tenor), Raimund Nolte (bass)
Oehms Classics OC 1876 (1 CD)
As Kapellmeister at the Berlin court of the Prussian King Friedrich II, Carl Heinrich Graun composed “countless” operas as well as significant sacred works. Several years ago, his Christmas Oratorio was rediscovered and can now be heard on this “exemplary” recording. Thomas Gropper leads the performance by the Baroque orchestra L’arpa festante, the Arcis-Vokalisten, and four soloists with perceptible joy. Right from the start, with the opening chorus “Mache dich auf, werde licht,” Graun’s oratorio is festive and atmospheric.

- Peter Froundjian: “Christmas Piano Music”
Sony 88985380162 (1 CD)
Those who are looking for something new and different among this year’s Christmas recording releases should consider Peter Froundjian’s disc of what the reviewer calls “genuine Christmas piano music.” A pianist and pedagogue, Froundjian founded the Rarities of Piano Music Festival in Husum, Germany, in 1987. The pieces heard here, mostly written during the second half of the 19th century but with a few coming from well into the 20th, are the work of (usually) unknown composers. These selections conjure “virtuoso Impressionistic tonal worlds” that only develop a sacred flair in many passages. In any event, this CD will be an inspiration for seasonal “Hausmusik” by experienced hobby musicians.

- The Piano Guys: “Christmas Together”
Sony 88985406122 (1 CD)
This is Christmas piano music of a different sort, performed by the American pianist Jon Schmidt and cellist Steven Sharp Nelson, who, under the sobriquet The Piano Guys, specialize in classically-influenced arrangements of pop tunes. On this CD, they present a program of seasonal music in which they are joined by noted guest artists such as The King’s Singers and Plácido Domingo. One hears the traditional carols performed in a pleasantly reverberant, easily consumable sound.

MAuer
December 29th, 2017, 07:22 PM
This year, it was the December issue of Opernwelt that was delayed in the mail. Better late than never, though, so here’s the summary of reviews (https://www.der-theaterverlag.de/opernwelt/opernwelt/):

RECOMMENDED

- Charpentier: La Descente d'Orphée aux enfers
Conductor: Sébastien Daucé
Cast: Robert Getchell, Caroline Weynants, Caroline Dangin-Bardot, Violaine Le Chenadec, Caroline Arud, Lucile Richardot, Stephen Collardelle, Davy Cornillot, Étienne Bazola, Nicolas Brooymans
Harmonia Mundi HMM902279 (1 CD)
Charpentier’s tragédie lyrique La Descente d'Orphée aux enfers, composed in 1686-87 as a chamber opera for the 10 singers in the ensemble of his patron, the Duchess of Guise, probably remained unfinished. In any event, it clocks in at less than an hour, with its two acts concentrating on Eurydice’s death and Orpheus’ journey to the Underworld. In this recording, Sébastien Daucé and his Ensemble Correspondances give a performance filled with energy and infectious joy. The musicians’ relaxed, frothy playing makes Charpentier’s score sound fresh, as though recreated at the moment, while the group’s vocalists please as both soloists and as a unified chorus. The Orphée, Robert Getchell, is a genuine haute-contre whose tenor climbs naturally and effortlessly into the vocal stratosphere, with a boyish timbre and a fine mixture of registers. All in all, the reviewer regards this as a “gem of operatic history” in an exemplary interpretation.

- Handel: Ottone
Conductor: George Petrou
Cast: Ann Hallenberg, Lauren Snouffer, Max Emanuel Cenčić, Xavier Sabata, Pavel Kudinov, Anna Starushkevych
Decca 4831814 (3 CDs)
This recording is another ambitious project of the Viennese firm Parnassus Arts Productions, whose Artistic Director is Max Emanuel Cenčić, singer of Ottone’s title role. Supported by the HIP orchestra Il Pomo d’Oro under the “inspired” conducting of George Petrou, the cast members are of a similarly high quality. In the Handel revival of the past decades, Ottone has been unfairly overshadowed (in the reviewer’s estimation) by the spectacular Giulio Cesare in Egitto, but this convincing account of the work should help to remedy that. With all of the plot twists and turns typical of Baroque opera, Ottone still boasts “countless” arias with finely sketched psychological portraits of the various figures.

- Regula Mühlemann: “Cleopatra – Baroque Arias”
Conductor/orchestra: Robin Peter Müller, La Folia Baroque Orchestra
Arias by Handel, Hasse, Graun, A. Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Legrenzi, Mattheson, Sartorio
Sony 88985407012 (1 CD)
Following her acclaimed album of Mozart arias, the Swiss soprano now explores the Baroque repertoire on this new disc through the character of Cleopatra. Her program begins with “Tra le procelle” from Graun’s Cesare e Cleopatra, which finds the famed Egyptian queen beside herself with fury and torn by conflicting passions. Abetted by the Baroque orchestra La Folia playing with vital, “prickly” brio under the baton of Robin Peter Müller, Mühlemann immediately casts her spell on the listener. The second selection, “Se pieta di me non senti,” from Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto has the monarch in the depths of misery and yet still fearless; not even death seems to frighten her. The soprano fills these varied portrayals with her clear, freely-flowing voice that conveys ecstasy as convincingly as emotional abysses. With impressive versatility, she captures the blazing hysterics of “Morte col fiero aspetto” from Hasse’s serenata Marc’ Antonio e Cleopatra as well as the simple gentleness of the 10 year-old girl in Legrenzi’s Antioco il Grande. She infuses the aria, “Squarciami pure il seno” from Vivaldi’s La virtù trionfante dell’amore e dell’odio with cantabile purity, while her account of “Mein Leben ist hin” from Mattheson’s Die unglückselige Cleopatra is deeply distressing (in a positive sense), both vocally and dramatically. The reviewer finds that pain has seldom been as “fascinatingly perceptible” as in this selection.

- Juan Diego Flórez: Mozart Opera Arias
Conductor/orchestra: Riccardo Minasi, Orchestra La Scintilla
Selections from Idomeneo, Die Zauberflöte, Il re pastore, Don Giovanni, La Clemenza di Tito, Cosi fan tutte, and Die Entführung aus dem Serail, plus the concert aria, “Misero! O sogno ... Aura che intorno spiri,” KV 431
Sony 88985430862 (1 CD)
In his lifetime, Sir Charles Mackerras was often nicknamed “Mr. Appoggiatura,” and based on his new disc of Mozart arias, Juan Diego Flórez seems to be another aspirant to the title. At 44, the Peruvian tenor still possesses a youthful-sounding voice with no signs of wear and tear. Registers are smoothly blended and focus is sharp as a knife. The low notes in the first octave have lost their earlier breathiness, while those in the passaggio are sonorous and high notes gleam “like a Baroque trumpet,” according to the reviewer. What’s especially remarkable is that Flórez has broadened his dynamic spectrum so he can produce a gentle, “amoroso” tone in the reprise of phrases. Equally impressive is the agility with which he dispatches trills and coloratura. On this CD, he opts for the difficult original version of Idomeneo’s “Fuor del mar” with its extended coloratura passages. While Ian Bostridge turns this heroic aria into a parody on Mackerras’ recording of the opera, both Anthony Rolfe-Johnson (Gardiner) and Richard Croft (Jacobs) prove themselves equal to the ornamentation but are unable to convey the music’s heroic character. In the New Mozart Edition, the score for this Urfassung contains only limited suggestions for ornamentation. Flórez sings the first stanza pretty much as written, but in the reprise, inserts high notes or embellishes certain phrases such as “è più funesto;” in the cadenza, he climbs up into the second octave. The reviewer suspects the source for this may be Domenico Corri, who published The Singer’s Perceptor in London around 1810 or 1811. In any case, there has been no other tenor – not even among the bel canto stylists of the late 19th century – who dared to use as much of this ornamentation as Flórez. The tenor also embellishes portions of Tamino’s Bildnisarie from Die Zauberflöte. In Alessandro’s heroic aria, “Si spande al sole in faccia,” from Il re pastore, he demonstrates that coloratura which departs slightly from a particular word can serve as dramatic expression. He produces a “magnificent” crescendo à la Rubini in the first stanza of Don Ottavio’s “Il mio tesoro” from Don Giovanni, while the same character’s “Dalla sua pace” (as well as Ferrando’s “Un’ aura amorosa” from Cosi fan tutte) is distinguished by fine dynamic embellishments that almost make more of an impact than the few delicate ornamentations Flórez chooses. He produces a soft, gentle tone for the Emperor’s “Del più sublime soglio” from the first act of La Clemenza di Tito, with careful dynamic shadings in the falling phrases, and brings heroic aplomb to the second act da capo aria, “Se all’impero.” Belmonte’s challenging “Ich baue ganz auf deine Stärke” from Die Entführung aus dem Serail was often omitted in early recordings of this opera, and only revived in the mid-1960s for Fritz Wunderlich in Eugen Jochum’s version. While Wunderlich may remain untouchable as “voice character” in the role, he doesn’t manage the passage in which the vocal line echoes the clarinet’s arpeggios as fluidly (and without aspirates) as Flórez does here. The album concludes with the concert aria, “Misero! O sogno . . . Aura che intorno spiri,” which the musicologist Alfred Einstein once observed would have been world-famous had it come from Le Nozze di Figaro or Don Giovanni. The Orchestra La Scintilla plays with aplomb under Riccardo Minasi, but where the ornamentation by the woodwinds is concerned, might have benefited from a couple of extra rehearsals. Still, this is an exciting recording that receives a definite thumbs-up from the reviewer.

- Pretty Yende: “Dreams”
Conductor/orchestra: Giacomo Sagripanti, Giuseppe Verdi Symphony Orchestra, Milan
With Mattia Olivieri (baritone), Carlo Lepore (bass), Piero Pretti (tenor), and Ilaria Sicignano (mezzo)
Arias by Gounod, Donizetti, Bellini, and Meyerbeer
Sony 88985430152 (1 CD)
If the South African soprano’s debut album was promising, her new CD, “Dreams,” sees the fulfillment of that promise. Her voice has grown more stable and somewhat more substantive, and when she sings Lucia di Lammermoor’s Mad Scene or the finale from La Sonnambula, it’s not brilliant virtuosity she produces, but delicate, fine, intimate vocal artistry. Much of her singing is infused with a dreamy, dark, melancholy tone. Yende takes a more vigorous approach to the excerpt from Linda di Chamounix, but her sound remains balanced and free of pressure. She will probably find more dramatic dimensions in roles such as Alaide from La Straniera as her career progresses, but as wisely as she shapes her character portrayals here, it’s evident that she listens to her voice. Giacomo Sagripanti and the Giuseppe Verdi Symphony Orchestra of Milan are very careful partners.

- Hindemith: Das Marienleben
Rachel Harnisch (soprano) and Jan Philip Schulze (pianist)
Naxos 8573423 (1 CD)
This new recording of Hindemith’s Lied cycle Das Marienleben (The Life of Mary) by soprano Rachel Harnisch and pianist Jan Philip Schulze has been chosen as the December issue’s CD of the Month. The cycle, written in 1922-23 and set to texts by Rainer Maria Rilke dealing with the life of the Virgin Mary, was repeatedly revised by the composer over the ensuing decades as his views of Rilke’s work changed. While the devout Catholic Rilke treated Mary as a mortal woman experiencing joy and pain, the young Hindemith regarded Rilke’s verses as a parody on some of the leading figures in Christianity, and provocatively reveled in their allusions and double meanings. During the succeeding 25 years, however, he carefully moderated the innuendoes. The reviewer finds that it would have been more gripping and meaningful had Harnisch opted for the Urfassung instead of the tamer, more accessible revision that has also been recorded by Erna Berger, Gundula Janowitz, Ruth Ziesak, Soile Isokoski, and others. Still, she skillfully avoids the danger of falling prey to the stronger emotionalism of the second version, which Hindemith cautioned against in his forward. Her interpretation is characterized by subtle differentiation in the emotionalism, as, for example, in the third song, “Mariae Verkündigung” (the Annunciation), which reflects the intensity of the viewpoints of both Mary and the Angel Gabriel. In the seventh song, “Geburt Christi” (Birth of Christ), she conveys humility and meekness, whereas the ninth, “Von der Hochzeit zu Kana” (the wedding at Cana), reflects the Virgin’s slightly vain pride when Jesus is able to work a miracle. Harnisch’s reading of the 10th song, “Vor der Passion” (Before the Passion), is deeply distressing, with Mary’s desperate outcry against the son who appears as humanity’s savior yet manages to feel no sympathy for his mother. Her delivery of the phrase, “JETZT wird mein Elend voll” (NOW my misery will be complete), after the torturous opening chord that introduces the 11th song is heart-rending. Harnisch’s singing leaves nothing to be desired with her expansive lyric soprano that has substance in the low register and luminous power as well as a wealth of colors on top. Her legato is excellent, dynamics exemplary, and text carefully articulated. She also has a superb partner in Schulze. The reviewer’s only quibble is with the slightly too reverberant sound of the recording. As is usual with Naxos, those purchasing this CD will need to download the song texts from the label’s web site.

- Hanna Elisabeth Müller: “Traumgekront”
Juliane Ruf (pianist)
Songs by Strauss, Schoenberg, and Berg
belvedere BVE08034 (1 CD)
Speaking of Rilke, he’s also the source of the term “Traumgekront” (dream-crowned), which is the title of both one of his poems and Hanna-Elisabeth Müller’s new Lied recital disc. But while his verses may “thirst” to be set to music, as the reviewer opines, that apparently hasn’t occurred yet, so there’s no selection with that name on Müller’s program. What is included here are many Strauss’ cycles, among them Mädchenblumen, Op. 22; Acht Gedichte aus 'Letzte Blätter', Op. 10; Vier Lieder, Op. 36; Sechs Lieder, Op. 56; Brentano Lieder, Op. 68; 8 Lieder, Op. 49; Die erwachte Rose; Ein Roslein zog ich mir im Garten (I Cultivated a Rosebush in My Garden); Rote Rosen; and Malven; along with Berg’s Sieben frühe Lieder and Schoenberg’s Vier Lieder Op. 2. The soprano proves herself an intelligent interpreter with crystal-clear tone that doesn’t lose focus even on a pianissimo high G, and spotless diction that sustains dramatic tension throughout. She and the pianist Juliane Ruf, who have been collaborating for a number of years, find what the reviewer calls a “language of internalization” in their approach to this material that never drifts into sentimentality. The Schoenberg Lieder become intimate portraits that don’t exclude a glowing rapture, but are also slowly slipping away from tonality. His influence, as well as that of Strauss, is perceptible in Berg’s Seven Early Songs. The works of these three composers comprise a “triptych” of early and even very early pieces that provides the structure for this recital, in which the songs often lie very high. As an excellent Mozart singer with the requisite technical and stylistic security, Müller is up to the challenge, and is ably supported by Ruf. On the whole, the reviewer finds this recording “an illumination.”

- Czernowin: Wintersong
Conductor/orchestra: Steven Schicks, International Contemporary Ensemble
With Kai Wessel (countertenor) and Jeffrey Gavett (baritone)
Kairos KAI 0015008 (1 CD)
The composer Chaya Czernowin once rhetorically asked if music can be as “living, immediate, from the gut, wild and uncertain as experience itself.” She answered that it can, given unprotected sensibility and analytical clarity, so that what is experienced can penetrate with the precision of surgical instruments. What that means is illustrated by Wintersong, a work for ensemble in which two vocal soloists are occasionally integrated. The composition, which took Czernowin 12 years (2002-2014) to complete, began with a piece for seven musicians which was revised, expanded, and “painted over.” As is typical for Czernowin, the focus is on remembering: how does a subject change over time, in the light of new discoveries and experiences? The reviewer finds it fascinating how such a powerful (even violent) immediacy proceeds from such a methodical, constructive, form-engendering approach. For this recording, Czernowin has chosen Versions II, IV, and V of Wintersong, but presents them in reverse order. The path leads backward, in deeper layers, with things forgotten or repressed. Inserted between the versions are four of the composer’s Action Sketches, likewise from 2014 – short, seemingly improvised pieces that represent moments of discovery in the long, painful process of recollection. The soloists Kai Wessel and Jeffrey Gavett, along with the International Contemporary Ensemble led by Steve Schicks, offer a very exciting, authentic performance.

- Tom Sora: Wechselspiele (Interplays)
With Sarah Maria Sun (soprano), Tom Sora (baritone, music box), Trio Coriolis, Andreas Skouras (piano), Martin Steuber and Johannes Öllinger (guitar duo), Thomas Hastreiter (drums)
Wergo WER 7350 2 (1 CD)
Tom Sora has given this work the subtitle “Music for Voice and Instruments,” but only two of the seven pieces that comprise the “Wechselspiele” actually involve vocal soloists. Another requires the instrumentalists to recite texts, with expression and gestures spelled out in the score. Sora is at once an academic, political philosopher, and art and music theorist, something a composition like the string trio “Gruppenzwänge” (peer pressure) illustrates perfectly. The term recalls social psychology discoveries, but the piece translates it into immediately effective tonal structures – what the reviewer characterizes a virtuoso study in unison. Sora’s musical vocabulary – what the composer calls “ciphers” – arises from the need to convey ideas, to explore the fundamental questions of human coexistence. This recording, made in close cooperation with Sora, can be considered authentic, with a precision and intensity that leave nothing to be desired.

- José de Orejón y Aparicio: La Esfera de Apolo
Conductor/orchestra: Adrián Rodríguez Van der Spoel, Música Temprana
Soloists: Soledad Cardoso, Lucía Martín-Cartón (sopranos)
Includes Cantadas, Villancico, Ah, de la esfera de Apolo; Zipoli: Tocatta, Al post Comunio; Roque Cerutti: Xácara, Según veo el Aparato; Dolores y Gozos de San Joseph: Chacona, Giga; sonatas by anonymous composers
Cobra COBRA0051 (1 CD)
For many years, the Argentinian composer and conductor Adrián Rodríguez Van der Spoel has strived to bring Baroque compositions from Latin America – many of them very poorly documented – to greater international notice. Now a resident of Amsterdam, he founded the orchestra Música Temprana there in 1996 to perform these lost works which his research has discovered. This new CD is devoted to the works of José de Orejón y Aparicio (1706-1765), the son of a Spanish father and a Peruvian mother who served as music director and organist at the Cathedral of Lima. A listing from 1809 shows approximately 40 compositions penned by Orejón, but only 19 of them have survived, contained on microfilm which Rodríguez Van der Spoel found in Buenos Aires. As small as this collection is, it reflects a musical genius that can withstand comparison to Pergolesi or Vivaldi. The cantata Ah, del dia, ah de la fiesta!, in praise of the Virgin of Copacabana, patron saint of Bolivia, is not simply a piece of virtuoso pyrotechnics for two sopranos and instrumentalists, but incorporates local forms (such as the introductory fandango) within the framework of traditional European style. Rodríguez Van der Spoel’s soloists, Lucía Martín-Cartón and Soledad Cardoso, deliver this music with fabulous, dancing drive. Also impressive is the parable Ah, de la esfera de Apolo, a 12-minute meditation on coming into being and passing away comprised of a duet, two recitatives, and two arias that’s full of effervescent melodies and springy rhythms. In addition to the six selections by Orejón, this disc includes a toccata by Domenico Zipoli (1688-1726), an Italian who died in Argentina; and a parody (Xácara) by the Milanese Roque Cerutti (1686-1760), who immigrated to Peru; along with sonatas by unknown Latin American composers of the 18th century.

- “Lieder im Volkston” (Songs in the style of folk music)
Regula Mühlemann (soprano), Okka von der Damerau (mezzo, Wolfgang Schwaiger (baritone), and Tareq Nazmi (bass)
Adrian Baianu (pianist)
Oehms Classics OC1875 (1 CD)
The reviewer doesn’t have any issues with the quality of either the musical performance or the music itself. His only gripe seems to be with what passes for Volksmusik (folk music) on German television these days. Referring to the pieces on this CD as being in the style of such music is misleading in that they are vastly superior to the noisy stuff typically heard on the TV. Though it may have been the goal of the prominent composers represented here to write in the style of Hausmusik (songs that could by sung by amateurs at home), this material, with its complex harmonies, is not “easy listening;” rather, it challenges one to ponder the meaning of both text and music.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Vinci: Didone abbandonata
Conductor: Carlo Ipata
Director: Deda Cristina Colonna
Cast: Roberta Mameli, Carlo Allemano, Raffaele Pé, Gabriella Costa, Marta Pluda, Giada Frasconi
Dynamic 37788 (1 DVD)
This production from the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino leaves mixed impressions. One can forget about Deda Cristina Colonna’s outmoded staging, with the singers engaging in clichéd gestures that make it look like they’re slicing the air in pieces. The musical performance is better, though Roberta Mameli’s Didone sounds too much like an operetta heroine for the reviewer’s taste. Carlo Allemano is an attractive-voiced Enea, but looks somewhat too mature for the part, and the remaining cast members aren’t especially exciting. Conductor Carlo Ipata does his best to draw appropriate, historically-inspired playing from the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Orchestra, but his forces still sound too inflexible.

- Handel: Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno
Conductor: Emmanuelle Haïm
Director: Krzysztof Warlikowski
Cast: Sabine Devieilhe, Franco Fagioli, Sara Mingardo, Michael Spyres
Erato 9029581936 (1 DVD)
There are already a good half-dozen audio recordings of this opera available, and they’re now joined by this video of a production from the Aix-en-Provence Festival. For the allegorical tale of Beauty (Bellezza) caught between the seductive blandishments of Pleasure (Piacere) and the gnawing tooth of Time (Tiempo), with commentary by Disillusionment (Disinganno), the young Handel wrote a wonderfully imaginative score that is vividly interpreted here by conductor Emmanuelle Haïm. The versatile soprano Sabine Devieilhe is an excellent Bellezza, but the intensive flickering in countertenor Franco Fagioli’s voice makes Piacere rather one-dimensional. Director Krzysztof Warlikowski treats Bellezza’s spiritual journey as the downfall of an emotionally empty woman enmeshed in a web of love, drug addiction, and illness (represented by a hospital ward). An illusionistic mirror maze and videos create a double reality, though the film excerpts by Jacques Derrida and Pascale Ogier frankly look imposed. Warlikowski “brutally” counteracts the libretto’s Christian perspective in an ending that has Bellezza “profanely” slitting her wrist instead of finding consolation in faith. But even such a conclusion devoid of any transcendent quality is given dignity by Handel’s music.

- Verdi: La Traviata
Conductor: Keri-Lynn Wilson
Cast: Marina Rebeka, Francesco Demuro, Thomas Hampson, et. al.
Naxos 2 110568 (1 DVD)
This semi-staged performance of La Traviata comes from the 2016 North German Radio Klassik Open-Air Festival, and features soprano Marina Rebeka in her parade role of Violetta. The staging is rudimentary; there are costumes and a few props, and the soloists make their entrances coming through the audience. The combined choruses (Johannes Brahms Choir Hannover, Hannover Girls’ Choir, and some members of the Hannover State Opera Chorus) are placed in oratorio formation. Conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson leads a lively account of Verdi’s score by the North German Radio Philharmonic, and the singers, especially Rebeka, successfully withstand the unflattering scrutiny of video director Michael Valentin’s close-ups. Francesco Demuro is a lyrical Alfredo capable of spirited passion, and Thomas Hampson makes a distinguished, though occasionally hoarse, Papa Germont. Rebeka copes well with Violetta’s “Ah! fors’è lui,” the second act unfolds without any forcing, and her “Addio del passato” never turns maudlin.

- Marina Rebeka: “Amor fatale: Rossini Arias”
Conductor/orchestra: Marco Armiliato, Munich Radio Orchestra
With Julia Heiler (mezzo-soprano), Levy Sekgapane (tenor), and Gianluca Margheri (baritone)
BR Klassik 900321 (1 CD)
Unfortunately, the Latvian soprano doesn’t make as favorable an impression with her album of Rossini arias as she did as Violetta in Hannover. The selections here are centered on figures from the composer’s opera seria, and Rebeka uses all her power to make a strong impression. But often, as in Anaï’s aria from Moïse et Pharaon, that power translates into dramatic singing where high notes sound more strained than triumphant. She doesn’t fire off coloratura passages in a machine-like manner; they are sul fiato, even if many embellishments and extrapolated notes are surprising. Her timbre has a somewhat frosty tint and the reviewer describes her heroines as sparkling “in the light of a cool fire.” Rebeka is at her best when her voice is calmer and can swing off more freely, as in Desdemona’s Willow Song from Otello. That she knows how to manage a dramatic scene is illustrated by her rendition of “Bel raggio lusinghier” from Semiramide, or her account of Anna’s aria from Maometto II. One only wishes she had more tenderness in her singing, or made greater use of tonal colors and dynamic gradations. The flexible Munich Radio Orchestra provides accompaniment in the best sense of the word, even if Marco Armiliato’s conducting sometimes has a generic cheerfulness about it.

- Sarah Maria Sun: “Modern Lied”
With Jan Philip Schulze (pianist)
Songs by Holliger, Sciarrino, Lachenmann, Kurtág, Rihm, and Bernhard Lang
Mode mode297 (1 CD)
Soprano Sarah Maria Sun and pianist Jan Philip Schulze have been working for some time on what they call “The Big Program,” a project which is supposed to include “the greatest contemporary Lied masterpieces,” according to the booklet enclosed with this CD. The selected pieces are all written in the traditional format of a vocal soloist with piano accompaniment – precisely the style that most recent art song composers have found problematic and are trying to move away from. In this context, the reviewer considers the title “Modern Lied” almost a “provocation.” Sun and Schulze rely on the versatile potential of the form, underscored by texts in German, Italian, English, Portuguese, and Russian, as well as the backgrounds and extremely different styles of the composers represented here. Sun is in her element, displaying linguistic skill, interpretive intelligence, and expressivity. However, her vocal production is occasionally breathy and her top often sounds shrill and strained. That becomes most evident in those songs that are most closely tied to the traditional Lied aesthetic, such as Heinz Holliger’s early Morgenstern-Lieder. At the opposite extreme is the “pulsing Sprechgesang” of Bernhard Lang’s pieces with their pop music roots, while Salvatore Sciarrino’s and György Kurtág’s “Lied condensate” lies somewhere between. Also occupying that middle ground is Wolfgang Rihm’s Ophelia Sings, based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The largest selection on this disc is Helmut Lachenmann’s nearly 30-minute long Get Lost, in which all of the elements of art song – text, articulation, singing, sounds, resonance, tone – are deconstructed and then reassembled in new combinations.

HISTORICAL

- Robert Holl: “Ein Leben für das Lied” (A Life for Song)
With pianists David Lutz, Oleg Maisenberg, Rudolf Jansen, and Midori Ortner
Songs by Schubert and Holl’s own compositions
Preiser Records PR 90832 (2 CDs)
The Dutch-Austrian bass-baritone Robert Holl, who will celebrate his 70th birthday on 10 March, remains active on the concert podium. Like his teacher and mentor Hans Hotter, he is as much at home with Schubert as with Wagner. This two-disc set stems from a series of Lied recitals Holl recorded for the Preiser label in the late 1970s (hence the inclusion in the historical category) and is a very personal selection, released in anticipation of the upcoming birthday. Things begin in a conventional manner with Schubert’s “Du holde Kunst,” but in the following selections, Holl moves into less familiar territory, with the literary quality of the texts playing a significant role in his choices. There are three Petrarch sonnets in the German translation by August Wilhelm Schlegel; Schiller’s “Pilgrim” and “Hoffnung;” and Novalis’ Nocturne. Holl’s own pieces attempt to translate Schubert’s style into a moderately contemporary format, and again use texts by the likes of Eichendorff, Lenau, Storm, and especially Georg Trakl. Holl is a genuine bass-baritone whose voice encompasses those of the lyric baritone, Heldenbariton, and serious bass, and shifts between these Fächer with astonishing flexibility. He articulates the texts in a succinct, profound fashion. He is a contemplative, philosophical, but never excessively intellectualized interpreter who always seeks a synthesis of music and text, and remains unique and unmistakable in comparison with great historic Lied singers.

- Irma Kolassi: The Decca Recitals
With André Collard and Jacqueline Bonneau (pianists)
Songs by Auber, Milhaud, Ravel, Falconieri, Fauré, Debussy, Schumann, Schubert, and Chausson; arias by Handel, Paisiello, Caccini, A. Scarlatti, Monteverdi, Pergolesi, Cesti, Massenet, and Berlioz; assorted songs by unknown composers
Decca Eloquence ELQ4824637 (4 CDs)
The Greco-French mezzo Irma Kolassi always seemed to fly under the radar, so to speak; she’s not even mentioned in Jürgen Kesting’s four-volume work Die grossen Sänger (The Great Singers), a standard reference in the German-speaking countries. Still, she didn’t completely escape the notice of management at Decca, and that label has now reissued her four Lied recital recordings from 1952-1955 on this set. Kolassi is a captivating interpreter, communicative and yet emotionally restrained. Along with the baritone Gerard Souzay, she was one of the last authentic representatives of a distinctively French singing style. For a mezzo, her voice is surprisingly lean and light-timbred, but paired with solid technique, is ideal for conveying the textual nuances of the mélodie. In contrast, the few Schubert and Schumann Lieder, though delivered with clear diction, sound as though sung in a foreign language (to native German speakers) due to her pronounced French accent. Central to this set are Kolassi’s recordings of French art song classics by Fauré, Debussy, and Ravel. She sings Debussy’s Trois chansons de Bilitis and Le Promenoir des deux amants with rapturous melancholy, and brings a light, cool reserve to Fauré’s seldom-heard cycle La chanson d’Eve. Particularly successful are the Ravel selections; her account of the Cinque Mélodies populaires grecques in the original French is without equal, and she infuses the exotic, glassy Chansons madécasses with seductive yet crystalline tone. There is a real discovery in this set with Chausson’s orchestral song cycle Poème de l’amour et de la mer, with an emotionalism to which Kolassi does no less justice than her stylistically assured neoclassical simplicity does to Milhaud’s austere Poèmes juifs. Kolassi’s artistically stylized, highly refined naïveté seems to have been a specialty of hers, illustrated by her renditions of Greek and Spanish folksongs, and the winning charm with which she fills her account of Alessandro Parisotti’s collection of Arie Antiche. The mezzo has excellent accompanists in André Collard and Jacqueline Bonneau.

- Jacques Jansen: The Decca Recitals
Jacqueline Bonneau (pianist), Jean-Pierre Rampal (flautist), and Maurice Gendron (cellist)
Songs by Debussy, Chabrier, Ravel, and Hahn
Decca Eloquence ELQ4824603 (1 CD)
An internationally celebrated interpreter of Debussy’s Pelléas, the French baritone Jacques Jansen remained in Souzay’s shadow as a Lied singer. His light, even sharp, somewhat lusterless voice can’t compete with that of Souzay, much less with his illustrious predecessor and teacher Charles Panzéra. Nonetheless, listening to this reissue of his art song recordings can be rewarding. He sings declamatory pieces such as Debussy’s Trois Ballades de François Villon or Ravel’s Chansons madécasses with verve, and renders Chabrier’s “grotesque” Romances with vivid word-painting. The 11 songs by Reynaldo Hahn heard on this CD are among the finest recordings of works by a composer who has been sadly neglected outside of France. Jansen receives outstanding support from pianist Jacqueline Bonneau.

- Arias and Scenes from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust, and Massenet’s Werther
Conductors/orchestras: Alberto Erede, Chorus and Orchestra of the Théâtre National de l’Opéra de Paris; Anatole Fistoulari, London Symphony Orchestra
Soloists: Irma Kolassi (mezzo), Raoul Jobin (tenor), and Pierre Mollet (baritone)
Decca Eloquence 482 4621 (1 CD)
The reviewer has very little to say about this CD beyond an observation that Kolassi stayed away from the operatic stage during her career, preferring to concentrate on art song. That may have been regrettable, to judge from her dramatically-charged account of Charlotte’s letter scene from Werther that’s among the selections here.

MAuer
January 3rd, 2018, 12:52 PM
Summary of reviews from the January, 2018, issue of Das Opernglas (https://www.opernglas.de/):

RECOMMENDED

- Strauss: Die schweigsame Frau
Conductor: Frank Beermann
Cast: Julia Bauer, Franz Hawlata, Bernhard Berchtold, Andreas Kindschuh, Monika Straube, Matthias Winter, Kouta Rasanen, Tiina Penttinen, Guibee Yang, Martin Gabler
cpo 7777572 (3 CDs)
One should really listen to this recording with libretto in hand to enjoy Stefan Zweig’s “exquisite” humor. Not that any fault can be found in the diction of Franz Hawlata, who sings Sir John Morosus, the retired admiral who is hyper-sensitive to noise as the result of an explosion on one of his ships. One also understands a great deal of Strauss’ comic opera from the reading by conductor Frank Beermann and the Robert Schumann Orchestra of Chemnitz. Julia Bauer shines in the role of Sir John’s niece-in-law Aminta, while tenor Bernard Berchtold is heard as his nephew, Henry.

- Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel
Conductor: Marek Janowski
Cast: Alexandra Steiner, Katrin Wundsam, Ricarda Merbeth, Albert Dohmen, Christian Elsner, Alexandra Hutton, Annika Gerhards
Pentatone PTC5186605 (2 SACDs)
This is a fine addition to the discography of Humperdinck’s popular opera, with Marek Janowski conducting a flawless, lively performance by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra that’s a pleasure to hear. The standouts among the soloists are Ricarda Merbeth, who sings wonderfully as the Mother, and Albert Dohmen, who gives superb articulation to the role of the Broom Maker. Mezzo Katrin Wundsam displays crystal-clear diction as Hänsel and Alexandra Steiner is a capable Gretel, even if the jugendlich dramatisch portions of her music take her soprano to its limits. This recording has a tenor, Christian Elsner, cast as the Witch.

- Vivaldi: Dorilla in Tempe
Conductor: Diego Fasolis
Cast: Romina Basso, Serena Malfi, Marina de Liso, Lucia Cirillo, Sonia Prina, Christian Senn
Naïve OP30560 (2 CDs)
Vivaldi’s “melodramma eroico-pastorale” had its world premiere at Venice’s Teatro San Angelo in 1726, but regrettably, the score for that Urfassung has been lost. The partitur from the 1734 revival at the same theater has survived, but it’s a pasticcio, with eight of the 21 arias written by someone other than Vivaldi – though he probably selected the substitutions himself. He took pains to keep up-to-date with changing tastes in Naples’ musical life, and chose popular arias by Domenico Sarro, Leonardo Leo, Giacomelli, and Hasse to include in his revived version of Dorilla in Tempe. The plot deals with the shepherd Nomio (actually the disguised Apollo), who falls in love with Dorilla, daughter of King Admeto of Thessaly. She, however, is in love with the shepherd Elmiro. In an echo of Idomeneo, Admeto is forced by the gods to save his kingdom by sacrificing Dorilla to the sea-serpent Pitone (Python), but she’s rescued in the nick of time by Nomio. As a reward, the incognito god claims her hand, but the princess runs off with Elmiro instead. The two are captured and Elmiro is sentenced to death, but Nomio then reveals his true identity, concedes defeat, and the lovers are reunited. All of the roles in this work are written for lower voices, including that of the heroine. Mezzo Romina Basso gives a touching portrayal of a woman secretly in love, and is especially moving in the scene where she’s ordered by Admeto to marry Nomio. The castrato roles are all assigned to women here rather than countertenors, but they are excellent: mezzos Serena Malfi and Marina de Liso as the rivals Elmiro and Nomio, respectively, mezzo Lucia Cirillo as Filindo, and the magnificent contralto Sonia Prina as Eudamia. Baritone Christian Senn is an outstanding Admeto, capturing the listener’s interest with his first aria, “Dall’orrido soggiorno.” Diego Fasolis leads his HIP ensemble I Barocchisti with his customary drive as well as the requisite lightness through Vivaldi’s score.

- Dostel: Prinzessin Nofretete
Conductor: Stefan Klingele
Cast: Not listed
Rondeau ROP614748 (2 CDs)
Nico Dostel’s operetta about Egyptian Princess Nefertiti is given a sparkling performance by the forces of Leipzig’s Musikalische Komödie. Conductor Stefan Klingele competently leafs the orchestra through Dostel’s entertaining score, while members of the theater’s ensemble shine in their engaged portrayals of their characters.

- Nina Stemme: Wagner
Live performances from the Vienna State Opera, 2003-2013
Excerpts from Der fliegende Holländer, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Tristan und Isolde
Conductors: Seiji Ozawa (Der fliegende Holländer) and Franz Welser-Möst
With Torsten Kerl, Johan Botha, Stephen Gould (tenors), Falk Struckmann (baritone), Franz Hawlata (bass)
Orfeo C937171B (1 CD)
The Swedish soprano is undoubtedly one of the best and most important Wagner singers of our time, and the Vienna State Opera has been fortunate to have her on their roster since 2003, when she made her house debut as Senta. As part of the “Wiener Staatsoper Live” series, this compilation of excerpts from live performance recordings featuring Stemme has been issued on CD. The first two selections show with what sovereignty she made her debut, displaying a charismatic lyric-dramatic timbre with well-focused power and giving a portrayal filled with vocal and psychological nuances. By 2007, when she appeared as Sieglinde in the Staatsoper’s new Ring cycle, her voice had acquired a darker, tangier quality without losing its lyrical core. A year later, she sang Brünnhilde in Siegfried opposite Stephen Gould’s titular hero, and her voice sounds a touch more effortless and sonorous. Her explosive power had increased without sacrificing her beautiful, lyrical top or her vivid treatment of the text. The reviewer describes her high notes in the finale as being in a class of their own. The disc concludes with excerpts from a 2013 production of Tristan und Isolde, with the soprano in one of her parade roles. In a studio setting, she might sing in an even more cultivated manner, but she’s still quite impressive in her interplay with the mighty orchestral forces.

- “Cecilia and Sol: Dolce Duello”
Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo soprano) and Sol Gabetta (cellist)
Conductor/orchestra: Andrés Gabetta (violinist), Cappella Gabetta
Includes excerpts from Nitocri, Gianguir (Caldara); Il nascimento de l'Aurora (Albinoni); San Sigismondo, re di Borgogna (Gabrielli), Tito Manlio (Vivaldi); Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, Arianna in Creta (Handel); and Gli orti esperidi (Porpora); Boccherini’s Cello Concerto In D Major Op. 34
Decca 4832473 (1 CD)
In a program as interesting as it is entertaining, the star mezzo and cellist Sol Gabetta take listeners on a journey through Baroque music from Gabrielli’s San Sigismondo (1687) to Handel’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day (1739) that includes arias by Vivaldi, Albinoni, Caldara, and Porpora, most of them quite long and some of them being recorded for the first time. Bartoli’s at her fabulous, virtuosic, and most charming best, and the two soloists harmonize well with each other. The breadth of the emotional spectrum that the mezzo’s interpretations encompass is astonishing, and Gabetta impresses with her fine sense of style and expression. At the conclusion of the album, the cellist is featured in Boccherini’s 20-minute Cello Concerto no. 10 in D-Major, accompanied by the Cappella Gabetta under the baton of Andrés Gabetta.

- Schubert: Schwanengesang
Bo Skovhus (baritone) and Stefan Vladar (pianist)
Capriccio C5292 (1 CD)

- Schubert: Schwanengesang
Roman Trekel (baritone) and Oliver Pohl (pianist)
Oehms Classics (1 CD)
It has never been definitively ascertained if Schubert intended his final Lieder to be assembled in one or even two cycles. The publisher Tobias Hasling decided to release the last 14 songs under the title of Schwanengesang, which was not only lucrative for him, but contributed to the wider dissemination of the pieces. The questions surrounding the composer’s intentions have led to two distinct variations from the standard arrangement of the songs in these new recordings by baritones Bo Skovhus and Roman Trekel.
Skovhus and his accompanist of many years, Stefan Vladar, assembled an alternative version that he first used in an earlier recording 20 years ago. In it, “Die Taubenpost,” Schubert’s final song, doesn’t come at the end of the cycle, but is embedded within a small group of Lieder which Hasling never included in his arrangement. These are then followed by the usual succession of songs with texts by Heine (beginning with “Der Atlas”) and Rellstab. As an experienced Lied singer, Skovhus knows how to perfectly combine music and text. His sonorous yet gentle voice possesses a romantic, rapturous quality that is particularly effective in expressing the many dark, melancholy moments in these pieces, but also has the tonal colors for lighter passages, as in “Ihr Bild.” Perhaps he could sing more cleanly and with purer intonation in many places, but the natural flow of his voice is always convincing. He uses tonal shadings and expression to add nuance to his shaping of the text in a manner that deserves recognition. His baritone has weight and drama for both the big, heavy moments as in “Der Atlas,” as well as the necessary composure and dramatic tension for the dark, quiet sections in several songs. Stefan Vladar prefers rather brisk tempos, allowing the piano to emphasize the clear, transparent quality of the music.
Roman Trekel begins his version of the work with the song “Schwanengesang,” which in spite of the title does not come from Hasling’s original compilation, along with four other pieces before he begins with the usual Lieder, though not in the usual succession. According to the booklet enclosed with the CD, the protagonist in Trekel’s reimagining of the cycle is once again the lonely, rootless wanderer who confides in the moon and river, and secretly longs to be in his grave. The baritone evinces great artistry in the way he interprets this material, dispensing with the Lied singer’s customary narrative distance and instead embodying his protagonist with full intensity. His Schwanengesang sounds like a great dramatic work for music theater, suggesting a collection of operatic monologues (Wotan and the Dutchman come to mind) from the perspective of an art song performer. One detects emotions such as bitterness (“Der Doppelgänger”) and aggression (“Totengräbers Heimweh”), but also tenderness befitting children’s songs (“An der Mond”) and optimism (“Frühlingssehnsucht”). Even if Trekel’s baritone doesn’t sound completely free in the low register and often displays rather a lot of vibrato, his vocal production is fundamentally convincing across his range and in all dynamic gradations. His longtime accompanist, Oliver Pohl, chooses more nuanced tempos in comparison to Vladar and plays in a “weightier” fashion suitable to Trekel’s interpretive approach. The duo gives nuanced shaping to every single piece, producing a fascinating recording that looks into the depths of the human soul.

Florian Busch: Schumann and Mahler Lieder
With Malcolm Martineau (pianist)
Schumann: Liederkreis, op. 39, Lieder und Gesänge aus Goethes 'Wilhelm Meister'; Mahler: Songs of a Wayfarer
Linn CKD511 (1 CD)
Joseph von Eichendorff is supposed to have remarked after a concert that Robert Schumann was the first composer who filled his poems with life when setting them to music. His reference was to what is now known as Schumann’s Eichendorff Lieder, written in 1840. In November, 2014, baritone Florian Boesch and pianist Malcolm Martineau recorded this work, consisting of 12 songs, in Crear, Scotland. It’s hard to tell what to admire most in Boesch’s reading: his very beautiful, velvety voice, his subtle interpretation of every single word, the always natural sound of his singing, or his ability to reach the heart of every song and envelop it in “rapturous magic.” On this album, he has also included Schumann’s short “Goethe Cycle,” with three Lieder set to verses from that poet’s Wilhelm Meister, and completes his program with Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer in the piano arrangement. One can argue about whether this version or the one with orchestral accompaniment is preferable, but when the songs are performed as intimately and nuanced as they are here, one may not want to decide.

- Barbara Hannigan: “Crazy Girl Crazy”
Conductor/orchestra: Barbara Hannigan, Ludwig Orchestra
Berio: Sequenza III for woman's voice; Berg: Lulu Suite; Hannigan: Girl Crazy Suite (after George Gershwin)
Alpha ALPHA293 (1 CD + 1 DVD)
This recital is tailor-made for Barbara Hannigan’s particular gifts, whether as singer or conductor. In the interesting booklet that accompanies the set, the Canadian soprano says she sees “Lulu’s blood” flowing through each of the selections represented here – Luciano Berio’s Sequenza III, Alban Berg’s Lulu Suite, and the Girl Crazy Suite, an arrangement by Bill Elliot based on George Gershwin’s Girl Crazy – and describes how she has been influenced by the three composers. She delivers Sequenza III as a virtuoso vocal solo that fluctuates between the “wildest humor” and being “flipped out.” The largest portion of the Lulu Suite is orchestral; she only sings the “Lied der Lulu” in a mixture of refinement and naïveté. (Of course, she’s also on the podium.) In the Girl Crazy Suite, she draws quite different, fabulous rhythms from the Netherlands-based Ludwig Orchestra (named for Beethoven), and once again proves herself what the reviewer calls “the cult figure of New Music.”

- Juliane Banse: “Im Arm der Liebe – Love’s Embrace”
Conductor/orchestra: Sebastian Weigle, Munich Radio Orchestra
Joseph Marx: Lieder und Gesänge, vols. 1-3; Italienisches Liederbuch; Walter Braunfels: 3 Chinesische Gesänge, Op. 19; Erich Wolfgang Korngold: 6 Einfache Lieder, Op. 9; Hans Pfitzner: Untreu und Trost; 5 Lieder, op. 11; 5 Lieder, op. 26
BR Klassik 900322 (1 CD)
Soprano Juliane Banse regularly gives concerts where the program takes the road less traveled. Typical is her new Lied recital disc with orchestral songs by Braunfels, Korngold, and Pfitzner along with the less well-known Joseph Marx. Written between 1910 and 1920, these pieces document the various stylistic directions in which composers were moving during that period. All of them are rooted in Late Romanticism, but use the voice differently – either carrying a song’s melody or its mood – and treat harmonies and instrumentation in a different manner. Braunfels’ Drei Chinesische Gesänge have a more theatrical character than the seven charming Lieder by Marx (born in 1882), who was one of the most important figures in Austrian musical life in the first half of the 20th century. Korngold’s six songs demonstrate once again that he was a master of melody and tonal sweetness, while the selections by Pfitzner reflect his introduction of simple folk style to the art song. With her dark, very individual soprano that reaches effortlessly into the stratosphere and possesses an interesting large vibrato, Banse gives these pieces a nuanced, well thought-out interpretation – sometimes with a big operatic voice, at other times in a simple, unaffected manner. Conductor Sebastian Weigle and the Munich Radio Orchestra partner her with sensitivity for the fine moods of this music.

- Christoph Prégardien: “A Matter of Heart: Trios for Tenor, Horn, and Piano”
With Olivier Darbellay (horn) and Michael Gees (piano)
Includes Britten’s The Heart of the Matter, and selections by Schubert, Lachner, Kreutzer, Kossmaly, and Pierson
Challenge Classics CC72771 (1 CD)
At first, one might think there aren’t many compositions for the combination of tenor, horn, and piano – and yet there are around 200 such works from the 19th century alone. The best known is Schubert’s “Auf dem Strom,” which is included on this disc by tenor Christoph Prégardien, hornist Olivier Darbellay, and pianist Michael Gees. The title of this unusual anthology is borrowed from Britten’s A Matter of Heart, which opens the nine-part, seldom performed musical-literary program The Heart of the Matter which the composer and poet Edith Sitwell created for the 1956 Aldeburgh Festival, and which was revised by his partner, tenor Peter Pears, in 1983. (That version is now the standard, and is the one used here.) At the center of the program is the dark Canticle III, Still Falls the Rain. In sharp contrast to Britten’s music are the pretty Lieder “Die Seejungfer” and “Herbst” by the Romantic composer Franz Lachner, a friend of Schubert, and Conradin Kreutzer’s “Das Mühlrad” and “Ständchen.” (Kreutzer is best known for his opera Das Nachtlager in Granada.) Prégardien sings these pieces with an unerring fine sense for the meaning of every word, and his clear, uncommonly beautiful, expressive tenor is heard to best advantage on this recording.

- Rafael Fingerlos: “Stille und Nacht”
With Sascha El Mouissi (pianist), Bernhard Berchtold (tenor), and David Bader (guitarist)
Lieder by Robert Fürstenthal, Strauss, Robert and Clara Schumann, Brahms, Carl Bohm, Rudolf Polsterer, Schubert, and Peter Cornelius; Franz Gruber/Joseph Mohr: “Stille Nacht”
Oehms Classics OC1879 (1 CD)
This is a live recording of a Liederabend given by the young Austrian baritone Rafael Fingerlos at the 2017 Schubertiade in Hohenems. He titled his program “Stille und Nacht” (Silence and Night), a word play on the famous Christmas carol “Stille Nacht.” At the conclusion of the concert, he sings the carol, written by Franz Gruber and Father Joseph Mohr in Fingerlos’ hometown Mariapfarr in 1816, in its original six-verse version, joined by tenor Bernhard Berchtold and guitarist David Bader. Fingerlos and his accompanist, Sascha El Mouissi, present a wisely chosen variety of Lieder that deal in various ways with the themes of silence and/or night. Many of them come from the German Romantic composers Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms, but the lesser-known Robert Fürstenthal, Carl Bohm, Rudolf Polsterer, and Peter Cornelius are also represented. The baritone interprets these pieces with great sensitivity, and it’s “pure pleasure” to listen to his beautiful, full voice.

- Klemens Sander: “Das lyrische Intermezzo”
With Uta Sander (pianist) and Cornelius Obonya (narrator)
Schumann: Dichterliebe; Heinrich Heine: Prologue and 65 poems from the Buch des Lieder (Songbook)
ARS 38 547 (1 CD)
Schumann’s Dichterliebe has been recorded numerous times, including by the countertenor Yaniv d’Or, so baritone Klemens Sander and pianist Uta Sander decided to try something different with their version. For their album, “Das lyrische Intermezzo,” they are joined by Burgtheater actor Cornelius Obonya, who recites a selection of poems by Heinrich Heine that Schumann set to music – Dichterliebe among them. It’s a joy to listen to the extensive prologue and all 65 poems in “The Lyric Intermezzo,” as Heine titled one of the sections in his famous Songbook. (A joy if one understands German, that is.) Obonya’s recitations are distinguished by an admirable forcefulness and naturalness, and compliment Schumann’s settings in a sensitive manner. Klemens Sander’s interpretation of these pieces leaves nothing to be desired in its wealth of nuances. His attractive, round baritone always sounds natural and appealing, free of any mannerisms. His diction is excellent.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor
Conductor: Daniel Oren
Director: Katie Mitchell
Cast: Diana Damrau, Charles Castronovo, Ludovic Tézier, Taylor Stayton, Kwangchul Youn, Rachael Lloyd, Peter Hoare
Erato 9029579205 (1 DVD)
Like the ROH production itself, this video comes with a warning about adult content. Katie Mitchell’s staging generated plenty of controversy with its shockingly realistic depiction of murder and miscarriage, the latter including copious quantities of (fake) blood. In Mitchell’s horror story, Lucia isn’t an emotionally fragile girl driven insane by the treatment meted out to her, but a traumatized young woman still capable of rebelling against her fate. Left at the mercy of her hated brother following their mother’s death, she clings to Edgardo with pathological intensity and becomes pregnant by him. She and Alisa cold-bloodedly plot Arturo’s murder, and after she suffers a miscarriage during the Mad Scene, finally takes her own life in the bathtub. One can debate the purpose of such scenes, and the use of a partitioned set to reveal parallel events diverts attention from the music on more than one occasion. Nonetheless, Mitchell’s interpretation is always exciting, something that can’t be said of every bel canto opera production. The way in which the singers immerse themselves in their roles also deserves respect. That’s especially true of Diana Damrau (Lucia), who is present from the first to the last moments of the drama. Her voice has grown more dramatic and she possesses an unlimited dynamic range and wealth of tonal colors. Even if she must work for the extreme high notes, that can probably be attributed to vocal development. Ludovic Tézier has been singing more dramatic roles for some time now, but he hasn’t forgotten his bel canto lessons. As Enrico, he finds the ideal balance between authority and stylistic assurance, and impresses with his powerful high notes. He is also much more engaged with his character here than in many other productions. From Kwangchul Youn’s pure bel canto in the part of Raimondo, one would hardly suspect that’s he’s been singing Wagner roles around the world for many years. Charles Castronovo is an intense Edgardo, but the partitioned stage often leaves him relegated to the sidelines and draws attention away from his appearances. Vocally, he leaves a mixed impression. He displays a beautiful, distinctive midrange that’s effective at all dynamic levels, but his flickering top with wrenched high notes makes one wonder about his technique. On the podium, Daniel Oren also creates a mixed impression. Rhythmically pointed, engaged ensembles are countered by oddly articulated ariosos that cause dramatic tension to plummet. There are also cuts in the score here that seem anachronistic in light of new critical editions.

- Donizetti: Rosmonda di Inghilterra
Conductor: Sebastiano Rolli
Director: Paolo Rota
Cast: Jessica Pratt, Dario Schmunk, Eva Mei, Nicola Ulivieri, Raffaela Lupinacci
Dynamic 37757 (2 DVDs)
Composed in the period between Lucrezia Borgia and Maria Stuarda, Donizetti’s opera dealing with another historical figure – Rosamund Clifford, mistress of England’s King Henry II – never enjoyed the popularity of the preceding and following works. Part of the problem may have been the depiction of Eleanor of Aquitaine (Leonora di Guienna) as a power-hungry woman who at the end openly kills her rival. The other difficulty likely has to do with the extremely demanding role of King Henry, which was tailor-made for the star tenor Gilbert Duprez. Dario Schmunk, who sings the part in this production from the Bergamo Festival, often sounds overtaxed. His voice has plenty of radiant power and he copes well with the high notes, but his intonation is often flawed and the heavy pressure his instrument is constantly under robs it of luster and roundness. The role of Rosmonda is not without some problems, either. Donizetti wrote lovely arias for this character, but gives the singer few opportunities to establish a dramatic profile. Jessica Pratt makes a positive impression with her luminous, flexible soprano, expansive breath, and security across all registers, even if high notes are not entirely coherent tonally with the rest of her voice. As the Queen, Eva Mei has the most grateful role in the opera and she makes the most of it. Her soprano has sufficient substance in the midrange and low register, but her lean, well-focused timbre is not sufficiently distinct from that of Pratt, which doesn’t really help the vocal dramaturgy. Nicola Ulivieri brings an attractive, supple bass to his outstanding portrayal of Clifford, Rosmonda’s father, while Raffaela Lupinacci lends her rich mezzo to the page Arturo. The orchestra sounds somewhat dry, which may be the fault of the acoustics or recording technique, since the musicians and conductor Sebastiano Rolli know how to place agogic and dramatic accents, and give a beautiful account of Donizetti’s appealing melodies. Director Paolo Rota favors a restrained Personenregie that offers no clue to the purpose for the stripes of colored makeup over the singers’ eyes. Most successful are Nicolas Bovey’s sets consisting of two movable walls, a few pieces of furniture, and lighting that creates simple atmospheric effects.

- Gounod: Faust
Conductor: Alejo Pérez
Director: Reinhard von der Thannen
Cast: Piotr Beczala, Maria Agresta, Ildar Abdrazakhov, Alexey Markov, Tara Erraught, Paolo Rumetz, Marie-Ange Todorovitch
EuroArts 8024297038 (2 DVDs)
There were strongly divided opinions about Reinhard von der Thannen’s production when it premiered at the 2016 Salzburg Festival, and the video reinforces that impression. In the accompanying booklet, the Regisseur offers all sorts of high-flown philosophical thoughts about Gounod’s opera, but there’s little to be seen of them onstage aside from some puzzling symbols. In his interpretation, Méphistophélès has become a combination circus director and master of ceremonies who more or less leads Faust through a succession of experiments. The result is that the characters are deprived of their individuality and become prototypes that fail to grip or move the viewer. Crowd scenes become totally laughable when all of the choristers appear in Pierrot costumes and must execute a very monotonous choreography. The musical performance is much better, with a cast who over long stretches really perform at Festival level. Piotr Beczala sings Faust with a radiant tenor and secure high notes, and leaves nothing to be desired in the way of a nuanced portrayal. Maria Agresta is a quite womanly (which I take to mean mature) looking Marguerite, with a full, glowing soprano that lends a strong profile to the suffering heroine. As Méphistophélès, Ildar Abdrazakhov displays an impressive top, though there’s little of the dark or demonic in his characterization. Alexey Markov lends a strong baritone to Valentin, but little idiomatic singing, while Tara Erraught brings a bittersweet timbre and easy upper register to the breeches role of Siébel. Unfortunately, the soloists receive little support from the podium. Alejo Pérez revels in the sound of the Vienna Philharmonic and forgets about any sort of dramatic buildup or inner tension. One after another, he stretches out the musical numbers, only to suddenly bang and boom his way through the choruses. Under the circumstances, it may have been just as well that the Walpurgisnacht scene was omitted.

- Strauss: Die Liebe der Danae
Conductor: Franz Welser-Möst
Director: Alvis Hermanis
Cast: Krassimira Stoyanova, Tomasz Konieczny, Norbert Ernst, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Regine Hangler, Gerhard Siegel, Mária Celeng, Olga Bezsmertna, Michaela Selinger, Jennifer Johnston
EuroArts 8024297024 (1 Blu-ray disc)
Also from the 2016 Salzburg Festival comes this staging of Strauss’ mythological opera about the Princess Danae and King Midas by Regisseur Alvis Hermanis. With the plot involving gold in one form or another, Hermanis (who also designed the sets) and costume designer Juozas Stratkevičius have practically gilded the Grosses Festspielhaus and transformed it into an opera museum. The costumes are a feast of color to rival any of the Russian or Thai folk garb or Bollywood fashions. White tiles form the basis of the sets, with a sort of pyramid construction for the soloists against which their attire, the carpet-like wall hangings, and 13 gilded dancers really pop. The visual splendor culminates in Jupiter’s entry atop a magnificent white elephant, which is especially effective on the Blu-ray disc’s sharp image. Those who don’t mind this sort of naïve depiction and enjoy Strauss’ music will be happy with this production; otherwise, there’s likely to be plenty of head-shaking or chuckling over a staging that scarcely touches on the opera’s characters, their relationships, and the progress of the plot. In the myth, Danae wants to help her bankrupt father, King Pollux, out of debt by marrying a wealthy husband, symbolized in her dream as a shower of golden rain. She accepts the proposal of King Midas, whose touch famously turns everything to gold, but she’s also being pressured by an amorous Jupiter. At the end, she chooses love over money and weds Midas, who has since been returned to his former existence as an impoverished donkey driver. Jupiter proves to be a good sport and sends a shower of gold to pay off Pollux’s debts. In any event, Hermanis’ and Stratkevičius’ opulent visuals harmonize well with Strauss’ music, which sparkles and glows as in few of his other works. This abundance of tonal gold is occasionally interrupted by eruptive moments reminiscent of Elektra, and the magnificent Vienna Philharmonic captures the full expanse of Strauss’ score with its “floating” violins and the most beautiful winds. Franz Welser-Möst is an ideal conductor who brings a touch of lightness to the “cheerful mythology.” With a few minor limitations, the soloists are up to the challenges of their demanding roles. As Danae, Krassimira Stoyanova could have clearer articulation, but her blossoming soprano with its absolutely secure top lends distinction to this performance. Hermanis demands little acting from her beyond a certain reserve, so that one can fully concentrate on her singing. Tomasz Konieczny is even more impressive on screen than he was in the theater in the treacherously high-lying, substantial role of Jupiter; his heroic baritone displays sonorous tone, effortless attacks, and notable power. The orchestra is his partner and not an adversary he has to sing against. Gerhard Siegel brings the linguistic presence of a character tenor to Midas and copes very well with the difficult tessitura. There are also convincing portrayals from the other soloists, particularly Norbert Ernst (Mercury), Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke (Pollux), and Regine Hangler (Xanthe).

- Franco Faccio: Amleto
Conductor: Paolo Carignani
Director: Olivier Tambosi
Cast: Pavel Cernoch, Claudio Sgura, Iulia Maria Dan, Eduard Tsanga, Dshamilja Kaiser, Sebastien Soules, Paul Schweinester, Bartosz Urbanowicz, Gianluca Buratto
C Major 740704 (1 Blu-ray disc)
Franco Faccio’s operatic treatment of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, with a libretto by Arrigo Boito, had its world premiere in Genoa in 1865. Boito’s text is full of poetic power and the music of Faccio (chiefly remembered as a conductor and director of La Scala) is gripping and intensely dramatic, though lacking much variety. Yet after the premiere, Amleto was performed only once more, in 1871 in Milan, where it was a total flop because the tenor singing the title role was in poor voice. Faccio never composed another work, and his opera was forgotten until 2014, when it was revived in the U.S. Two years later, the Bregenz Festival mounted the production seen in this video. Director Olivier Tambosi, set designer Frank Philipp Schlössmann, and costume designer Gesine Völlm see the figure of Hamlet above all as the epitome of an actor who is capable of playing a variety of roles – philosopher, son, intriguer, theater critic, and lover – credibly and convincingly. With marvelous lighting direction, the production team creates fascinating scenes dominated by the colors red and black as synonyms for love and pain, blood and mourning, which are very well captured on the Blu-ray disc. Paolo Carignani leads a gripping, dramatic, and above all loud reading of Faccio’s score by the Vienna Symphony. This ensemble receives the lion’s share of the city’s concert engagements, and unfortunately, one can tell it is no genuine opera orchestra. With the constant forte, Carignani may want to recall the Italian verismo tradition from around the turn of the 20th century, but such an approach has only limited applicability, even if Faccio may have foreseen such a development. In the title role, Pavol Cernoch is a melancholy, even gloomy Dane with a powerful tenor, but he also takes care to give dramatic nuances to his portrayal. Dshamilja Kaiser lends a big mezzo to Queen Gertrude, but Iulia Maria Dan remains a pallid Ophelia.

- Andrea Lorenzo Scartazzini: Edward II
Conductor: Thomas Søndergård
Cast: Michael Nagy, Agneta Eichenholz, Ladislav Elgr, Andrew Harris, Burkhard Ulrich, James Kryshak, Jarrett Ott, Markus Brück, Gideon Poppe, Gieorgij Puchalski, Mattis van Hasselt
Oehms Classics OC969 (2 CDs)
Swiss composer Andrea Lorenzo Scartazzini’s opera about King Edward II of England and his favorite, Piers de Gaveston, with a German libretto by Thomas Jorigk, had its world premiere in February, 2017, at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. This live recording comes from the revival this past October. The Oehms Classics label has included a large, extensively illustrated booklet with the two CDs, and the sound quality is superb, crystal-clear, and free of any extraneous noises – though a certain vocal strain among the protagonists can also be detected. Michael Nagy is an energetic Edward with a powerful baritone, and he gives the King a sensitive portrayal. Tenor Ladislav Elgr is a sympathetic Gaveston, even if his German pronunciation isn’t entirely accent-free. Jarrett Ott is convincing in the minor role of an angel with his warm timbre, and must occasionally switch back and forth between singing and speech. As Edward’s Queen, Isabella, Agneta Eichenholz makes a favorable impression with her lyric soprano, but her voice isn’t free enough in dramatic outbursts and sounds overtaxed. Character tenor Burkhard Ulrich is a dramatically involved Bishop of Coventry, while Gideon Poppe and Markus Brück (who portray soldiers, councilors, and clerics) provide for some humor with their suggestive jokes. The role of the young Prince Edward is written in the highest reaches of a boy soprano and likewise alternates between singing and Sprechstimme, but Mattis van Hasselt is very convincing. Led by Thomas Søndergård, the DOB Orchestra plays with great precision, unity, and an astonishing wealth of colors. This is a “highly emotional” music drama in which text is more often spoken than sung.

- Schubert: Die Winterreise
Tilman Lichdi (tenor) and Klaus Jäckle (guitarist)
LR 720259 (1 CD)
Considering the abundance of excellent recordings of this Lied cycle, it’s daring for any artist to bring a new recording into the market. Tenor Tilman Lichdi has taken on the challenge, but with an unusual arrangement. Instead of a pianist, he’s accompanied by the guitarist Klaus Jäckle. It takes a little while for the listener to adjust to the different sound, which is much more brittle than that of a piano. That has advantages and disadvantages, and changes from song to song. Often one hears fascinating details in a completely new way; on the other hand, the guitar occasionally sounds somewhat dry and “spindly.” The decision to use a different instrument may be all the more regrettable in view of the exceptionally high quality of Lichdi’s interpretation. His tenor has luster and presence, is superbly focused and uncommonly flexible. He brings the finest vocal shadings to every song and yet always sounds natural, in spite of the many subtle nuances with which he fills his account of this cycle. One hopes there will be more recordings by this gifted singer with his incredibly poetic, expressive palette.

- Andreas Scholl: “Small Gifts”
With Dorothee Oberlinger (flautist, conductor) and Ensemble 1700
Vocal and instrumental works by J.S. Bach
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 88985428392 (1 CD)
When a new recording by countertenor Andreas Scholl with works by Bach is released, the listener can expect something extraordinary – especially when he’s partnered by musicians who completely enter into his style of singing and his interpretations. In reference to a quote by Bach in his dedication to the Brandenburg Concerto, Scholl has titled this album with flautist Dorothee Oberlinger “Small Gifts” (apparently the composer’s modest description of his talent). Scholl actually sings only one complete work on this disc, the cantata Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust (BWV 170), and pairs it with one aria apiece from four cantatas: “Jesus schläft, was soll ich hoffen” (Cantata BWV 81), “Himmelskönig, sei willkommen” (Cantata BWV 182), “Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn” (Cantata BWV 119), and “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben” (Cantata BWV 147). As an interpreter, he effaces himself as much as possible, doesn’t try to impress with his beautiful voice, and instead sings very simply and concentrates on the spiritual heart of these pieces, as the music requires. As well as playing the flute solos, Oberlinger conducts the 16 musicians of Ensemble 1700, who play in a very lean, transparent manner, but occasionally also sound a little dry and anemic.

HISTORICAL

- Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer
Conductor: Otto Klemperer
Cast: Theo Adam, Anja Silja, Martti Talvela, Ernst Kozub, Annelies Burmeister, Gerhard Unger
Warner Classics 9029581744 (2 CDs)
Otto Klemperer’s legendary 1968 recording of Der fliegende Holländer has now been remastered and released by Warner Classics in book form containing two CDs. In no other recording of this opera is such a meaningful narrative developed out of the sound of the orchestra, with dramatic climaxes driven to nearly the bursting point. One understands every word sung by Theo Adam (the Dutchman), Martti Talvela (Daland), and Ernst Kozub (Erik). Anja Silja’s Senta is not technically flawless, but this doesn’t detract from the overall quality of this set, described by the reviewer as a listening experience of special quality.

- “Best of René Kollo”
Various conductors, orchestras, and accompanists
Lieder by Schubert, Mahler, and Beethoven; excerpts from Siegfried, Götterdämmerung, and Tannhäuser; operetta arias, popular songs, and sacred pieces
Sony Classical 88985457002
On 20 November, one of the leading international Heldentenors of the late 20th century, René Kollo, celebrated his 80th birthday. To mark the occasion, Sony Classical released this two-disc set of excerpts compiled from his numerous recordings. Unfortunately, they did a rather sloppy job of it, with no accompanying booklet and an occasionally capricious ordering of the various selections. On the first CD, one hears an authentic, passionately singing tenor in popular songs, where he makes the most of his gleaming timbre and clear diction. The second CD begins with the “Ave, Maria” (no indication whether it’s Schubert’s or the Bach-Gounod setting) before Kollo is heard in Lieder by Schubert, Mahler, and Beethoven as well as a couple of operetta arias, which in turn are followed by excerpts from Marek Janowski’s early 1980s recording of Wagner’s Ring. This concentrated survey of the tenor repertoire is arbitrary and not very well thought-through when two selections from Das Lied von der Erde and Siegfried’s Forging Song are sandwiched around two cheerful arias from Suppe’s operetta Die schöne Galathée, but it does illustrate Kollo’s versatility. While a powerful Heldentenor may be somewhat problematic in the “Ave, Maria,” one enjoys hearing such an adventurous, highly expressive voice in the Mahler songs. That he also knew how to sing in a cultivated, sensitive manner is demonstrated in his account of “Brünnhilde! Heilige Braut!” from Götterdämmerung. His Wagner is not always elegant and technically clean, but the excerpts on this set make one long to hear such a radiant, strong Wagner voice such as Kollo possessed in his best years.

- Gundula Janowitz: The Last Recital (In Memoriam Maria Callas)
With Charles Spencer (pianist)
Lieder by Schubert, Schumann, and Strauss
First Hand FHR56 (1 CD)
The great Austrian soprano also celebrated her 80th birthday in 2017, and in conjunction with the event, this live recording of her last Liederabend has now been released. The performance took place on 16 September 1999, the 20th anniversary of Maria Callas’ death, at the open-air Herodes Atticus Odeon in Athens and was dedicated to the memory of La Divina. Both the absence of background noise and the clarity of both Janowitz’s voice and Charles Spencer’s piano accompaniment almost make the listener think he/she is hearing a studio recording. Admittedly, one can often detect the soprano’s age in her singing at this point; the upper register is not always easily reached and some notes are sour. Nonetheless, it’s amazing to hear how clear and often girlishly pure her tone is, especially in a group of Strauss Lieder. Her interpretations of the Schubert and Schumann songs are distinguished by a natural handling of the text and masterful shaping of each piece.

- Sergiu Celibidache: Mahler – Strauss
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra; Brigitte Fassbänder (mezzo soprano)
Mahler: Kindertotenlieder; Strauss: Death and Transfiguration, op. 24
Münchner Philharmoniker 9305211296 (1 CD)
During the 16 years that Sergiu Celibidache was General Music Director of the Munich Philharmonic, he put his definitive stamp on the orchestra and considerably boosted its profile. Since then, the ensemble has established its own label on which it has released some live recordings made with its former Principal Conductor. The second issue in the archive series, this CD includes a performance of Strauss’ Death and Transfiguration from 1979 and Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder from 1983. Both document Celibidache’s preference for slow tempos which, in the reviewer’s opinion, did not always generate the necessary inner tension. The orchestra shines with the quality of its playing in the Strauss, where very quiet moments are “celebrated” and climaxes attain maximum grandeur. Brigitte Fassbänder is the soloist in the Mahler cycle, where she shapes the songs with great excitement and textual clarity. Hearing her lyric mezzo paired with the strong woodwinds is a pleasure.

CROSSOVER

- Michel Legrand: “Between Yesterday and Tomorrow”
With Natalie Dessay (soprano)
Conductor/orchestra: Michel Legrand, London Studio Orchestra
Sony 88985410492 (1 CD)
Since the end of her operatic career, Natalie Dessay has enjoyed taking on new challenges and exploring other musical genres. On her latest album, she sings a song cycle Michel Legrand originally wrote for Barbra Streisand in the 1960s. In 20 easily comprehensible poems, Between Yesterday and Tomorrow looks at the various stages in a woman’s life, beginning with the first breath and scream at birth, through childhood, first love, and motherhood, before finally arriving at the last breath before death. The perfection with which the soprano vocally differentiates between the different phases is admirable. Accompaniment is provided by the London Studio Orchestra, whose musicians recorded their part in the British capital. Afterward, that recording was mixed with Dessay’s vocals, which had been recorded in Paris. Legrand’s sentimental, harmless music recalls Hollywood films from the ‘60s.

MAuer
January 12th, 2018, 06:22 PM
Here’s the summary of reviews from the January issue of Opernwelt (https://www.der-theaterverlag.de/opernwelt/opernwelt/):

RECOMMENDED

- Sabine Devieilhe: “Mirages”
Conductor/orchestra: François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles
With Marianne Crebassa (mezzo soprano) and Alexandre Tharaud (pianist)
French opera arias and songs
Erato 9029576772 (1 CD)
Sabine Devieilhe’s new album concentrating on virtuoso coloratura arias from the late 19th and early 20th centuries gets a thumbs-up from the reviewer. These pieces express a wide range of emotions, from sighing over melancholy pain all the way to ecstatic rapture. The French soprano sings this varied material with perfect technique, alluring sensuousness, and round, lyrical tone. In contrast to predecessors such as Mado Robin, Mady Mesplé, or Natalie Dessay, she’s no “twittering machine” and doesn’t turn these arias into “circus numbers,” but exudes melodiousness in the most breakneck coloratura and captivates the listener with her charm. Her program includes some unusual selections, such as the “Cicadas’ Waltz” from Messager’s Madame Chrysanthème, art song rarities by Berlioz, Debussy, and Charles Koechlin, and the high point of the recording, Maurice Delaze’s Quatre Poèmes hindous, which Devieilhe sings with “hypnotizing” sensuousness. She’s accompanied by the HIP orchestra Les Siècles, circumspectly led by François-Xavier Roth, and by pianist Alexandre Tharaud in the chansons. For the Flower Duet from Lakmé, she’s joined by the outstanding mezzo Marianne Crebassa.

- Philippe Jaroussky: The Handel Album
Orchestra: Ensemble Artaserse
Includes arias from Imeneo, Riccardo Primo, Siroe, Serse, Radamisto, Flavio, Amadigi, Tolomeo, Giustino, and Ezio
Erato 9029577445 (1 CD)
For the first time, the French countertenor has devoted an entire album to one of his favorite composers. While he’s portrayed such Handel heroes as Rinaldo, Serse, Ruggiero, and Didymus onstage, he’s chosen arias from 10 of the composer’s less well-known works for this studio recording that he made with the historic performance orchestra he founded, Ensemble Artaserse. In the beginning, with Tirinto’s appeal to Amor from Imeneo (“Se potessero i sospir’ miei”), one hears a delicate variation on David’s “Oh Lord, whose mercies numberless” from the oratorio Saul. This piece reveals a tendency with Jaroussky that increases over the course of his program, namely that his voice is most impressive in those selections dealing with sighing and longing, reveling (in emotions) and pining, where he can demonstrate his expertise in pointed effects such as extended crescendos, smooth appoggiaturas, and graceful, virtuosic coloratura. Phrasing and articulation are tasteful, fluid, and artistic, and his expression is as captivating as always. However, when he ascends to the upper register, his voice constricts, becomes a touch thin, and what the reviewer describes as sounding sarcastic and tight-lipped. Occasionally, he’s also inclined to “perfumed,” overdrawn portrayals. The reviewer doesn’t necessarily view these as faults, but rather sees them, like Jaroussky’s flexible agogic accents that lend dynamic nuances to his interpretation, as having the primary goal of bringing clarity to the “poetic immanence” of each aria and giving it “Orphean” sensuality. This is especially effective in Siroe’s lament, “Son stanco, ingiusti Numi,” and Radamisto’s “Ombra cara di mia sposa,” the latter here transposed to D-minor from its original key of F-minor. (The role was sung at the world premiere by the Italian star soprano Margherita Durastante, and later revised by Handel for the star castrato Senesino.) Jaroussky sounds similarly lyrical and tender in Ezio’s “Pensa a serbarmi, o cara,” and is particularly compelling in the a cappella beginning where his voice seems (metaphorically) to float above the clouds. But he can also depict characters driven by fury or flinging lightning bolts, as in Riccardo’s outburst of rage, “Agitato da fieri tempeste,” or Radamisto’s blazing “Vieni, d’empietà mostro crudele.” In both instances, it’s evident what close cooperation Jaroussky receives from his musicians. Every accent, gesture, and effect is attuned down to the details. And therein lies part of the great advantage in this recording. The countertenor would only be half as brilliant if he didn’t have such fabulous instrumentalists at his side. So all those who have longed for a Handel album from this singer can now sit back, enjoy – and be astonished.

- Sonia Prina: “Heroes in Love”
Conductor/orchestra: Rubin Jais, La Barocca
Excerpts from Gluck operas La Sofonisba, Demofoonte, Cleonice, La Semiramide riconosciuta, Ezio, Ippolito, Ipermestra, and Telemaco
Glossa GCD924101 (1 CD)
This disc by the contralto Sonia Prina is devoted to the less-known “Italian” Gluck of the 1740s and ‘50s, who still followed the seria format and was some years away from his reform operas. Many of the works represented here had their world premieres in northern Italy, with Ezio (Prague) and Telemaco (Vienna) the exceptions, and most used librettos by Metastasio. But while these operas were written in the seria form, they are far from stereotypical. Virtuosity is balanced with expression, and a number like “Tradita, sprezzata” from La Semiramide riconosciuta anticipates his musical dramaturgy of the future. With her full-bodied chest register and blazing, sharply contoured coloratura that’s absent any hardness, Prina superbly captures the heroic character of these arias. Her voice possesses enormous flexibility; she creates delicate ornamentation and expressive legato arcs, and takes great care in shaping her interpretations. One could hardly find a more persuasive argument for reviving some of these rarities in staged productions.

- Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin
Christian Gerhaher (baritone), Gerold Huber (pianist)
Sony 88985427402 (1 CD)
With his second recording of Schubert’s well-known Lied cycle, Christian Gerhaher presents himself as both vocalist and narrator, framing the songs by reciting the poet Wilhelm Müller’s prologue and epilogue as well as three of the poems from Müller’s cycle that Schubert chose not to set to music. The text of the prologue in particular “throws a sarcastic shadow,” in the reviewer’s phrase, over the accustomed narrative of the young mill worker who doesn’t recognize the danger of his sensitivity and is left “reeling” in the depth of his emotions. It’s fascinating how Gerhaher’s reading illuminates the “fabric” of the textual motifs as well as the tension between text and music from both psychological and philological perspectives. Vocally, the baritone isn’t one of those singers who tries to draw attention to himself through an attractive fullness of sound or provocative eccentricities. His voice has a noble, clear timbre and is well controlled in all dynamic gradations throughout his range. His diction is excellent, with words completely embedded in the music so that he’s able to illustrate each situation with “tone painting.” His mill worker isn’t the rapturous youth intoxicated by his emotions as one hears in the interpretations of Fritz Wunderlich or Aksel Schiøtz; rather, this young man displays increasing self-awareness. Gerhaher is once again partnered by Gerold Huber, who plays brilliantly and understands like few others how to think and paint in sound.

- Schubert: Lieder (Live)
Hans Christoph Begemann (baritone), Thomas Seyboldt (pianist)
bastille musique bm006 (5 CDs)
Two and a half years ago, Sebastian Solte founded the label bastille musique, which separates itself visually and even in a tactile manner from most of the others on the market. The plastic jewelcase has been replaced by a plain cardboard holder, and enclosed print material offers profound information instead of high-gloss PR hyperbole – a minimalism that focuses attention on the recording itself. Now, in cooperation with Lotte Thaler of the Südwest Rundfunk (Southwest Broadcasting), Solte has released a set of live recordings of Lied concerts by baritone Hans Christoph Begemann and pianist Thomas Seyboldt that had been languishing in the broadcaster’s archives (one since 1997) on his label, and it’s been chosen as the January issue’s CD (CDs?) of the Month. All of the recital programs are devoted to Schubert and include his Goethe Lieder, Schiller ballads, and Hölty Lieder in addition to the well-known Winterreise cycle. One seldom hears the very heterogeneous breadth of Schubert’s Lied compositions performed in such a natural manner as Begemann’s that’s both deeply probing and yet with an apparent naïveté derived from musical notation and text. His interpretations are entirely free of mannerisms or the suggestion of any sort of coaching; he immerses himself in every word, mood, and modulation. He captures the humor in the settings of Goethe’s “Rattenfänger” and Hölty’s “Knabenzeit,” presents himself as a superb narrator who effortlessly communicates with different voices (in “Der Gott und die Bajadere” or “Der Fischer”), and perfectly blends natural idyll and “erotic phantasmagoria,” all with vocal means. In his reading, Schiller’s mododramas “Taucher” and “Die Burgschaft” become enormously vivid. At the keyboard, Seyboldt provides the foundation (so to speak) of this unique partnership. His playing is distinguished by precisely managed rubati, the most delicate piani, sharply accentuated attacks, and a seemingly improvised imaginativeness that the reviewer likens to a “temperature chart” of Schubert. This set is five hours of interpretive artistry of the highest standard that’s paired with a “concise, living” introduction by Walther Dürr.

- Schubert: “Der Einsame”
Ilker Arcayürek (tenor) and Simon Lepper (pianist)
Includes Drei Gesänge des Harfners and a selection of Schubert Lieder, “Der Einsame” among them
Champs Hill Records CHRCD133
This is an exciting debut album by Ilker Arcayürek, a young Turkish tenor who became a “Viennese” singer by acculturation, first as a member of the Mozart Boy Choir and then the Arnold Schoenberg Choir. His first operatic engagements were in Zürich and Nürnberg. He’s titled this disc of Schubert songs “Der Einsame” (the solitary man), but in his forward in the enclosed booklet, states that “being alone never meant being lonely.” (He uses the English text.) His lyric tenor has a tender quality and a trim, silvery, easily-attained, attractive upper register. His supple forming of melodic embellishments reveals his outstanding vocal production. As a Lied singer, he’s not among the “interventionist” interpreters who use “passionate identification” as a means of inflection, and he dispenses with such emotional touches as dramatic accents or expanded rubati. Instead, he relies only on musical expression – very impressive in such lyrical songs as “Nachtstück,” “Der Jüngling an der Quelle,” “Nacht und Träume,” “Meeres Stille,” or “Wanderers Nachtlied.” He has an attentive partner in Simon Lepper, winner of the Gerald Moore Prize and official accompanist of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition.

- Songs by Robert Franz
Robin Tritschler (tenor) and Graham Johnson (pianist)
Hyperion CDA68128 (1 CD)
The development of the German art song in the 19th century is usually viewed as a progression from Schubert to Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Brahms, and concluding with Wolf, Strauss, and Pfitzner. In the booklet enclosed with this CD devoted to the Lieder of Robert Franz, pianist Graham Johnson explains that Schubert’s death in 1828 left a vacuum in this musical genre, with undemanding, “consumer-friendly” Lieder coming into fashion and dominating the market. In this context, Robert Franz appears to have been a genuine pioneer in 1843 when he released his first song collection with high-quality, literary texts. It impressed Schumann, with whom Franz had friendly contact, and he gave it an enthusiastic review. For a long time, Franz was regarded as the most important Lied composer of his generation, not to mention the most prolific (279 songs). Yet by the turn of the 20th century, he had largely been forgotten and even today plays at most a marginal role. That’s certainly not entirely justified, as he was what the reviewer terms “a master of the miniature” who always placed his music at the service of the text. “Not a single note too many” seems to have been his motto; many of his songs are shorter than a minute. He was selective in his choice of texts and he chose the best: Goethe, Mörike, Eichendorff, and especially Heine. With 25 of the Lieder on this disc being settings of Heine’s verses, he is at the center of tenor Robin Tritschler’s and Johnson’s program of Franz songs. Nine of these Heine Lieder deserve particular attention, as the same texts were used by Schumann in his Dichterliebe. Franz never organized them in a cycle; rather, they were written independently of one another during the composer’s different creative periods. But naturally, there are comparisons, and they reveal that Franz was not among the Romantics. His style was influenced more by Bach and Handel, and had a special affinity with the German folksong. His treatment of Heine’s verses is lighter than Schumann’s, more direct and often more dramatic (“Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet”), with the piano seldom taking a solo role. Johnson approached this Franz project with the same scholarly attention to detail that have made his recordings of many Schubert Lieder so unique. But this CD isn’t intended to be simply an archive, and invites repeated listening. Johnson’s accompaniment is free of routine, is polished down to the fine details, and yet always sounds spontaneous and inspired. Irish tenor Robin Tritschler has a timbre reminiscent of Peter Pears, but this initially androgynous-sounding voice is capable of virile attack and displays color and character even in the low register. This young singer is already a mature, canny Lied interpreter.

- Hanns Eisler: Songs and Ballads, vol. 2
Holger Falk (baritone) and Steffen Schleiermacher (pianist)
MDG MDG6132040 (1 CD)
This is the second of four planned recordings by baritone Holger Falk and pianist Steffen Schleiermacher focused on the songs and street ballads of Hanns Eisler. Eisler, best known for composing the National Anthem of the former East Germany, was an avowed Communist and his songs have political content reflective of his ideological orientation. A student of Schoenberg, Eisler once proclaimed that “the struggle song (Kampflied) is the only folksong of the proletariat.” The first album in this series included 27 songs from the period 1928-1937, the year before Eisler’s emigration. The second one contains 39 pieces written between 1948, when the anti-Communist hysteria of the McCarthy era caused him to return to Germany from the U.S., and 1962, when the increasingly resigned composer died. These are songs of “epigrammatic brevity,” according to the reviewer; among the longer numbers is “Deutschland einig Vaterland,” the aforementioned DDR National Anthem. Falk sings this number with the dignity and humanity Eisler had wanted, as he does five of the New German Folksongs with text by the politician, novelist, and poet Johannes R. Becher, who strained to write in a popular style. In his commentary, Schleiermacher notes that these songs were once criticized by some as Eisler’s “high treason” betrayal of his teacher Schoenberg, though the pianist doesn’t mention who those critics were. Falk lends these pieces a sort of innocent tone which he carries through concealed irony to a sphere beyond sentimentality, to a sweetness created by the highly artistic refinement in his use of mezza voce. In several of these pieces, especially those set to texts by Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Tucholsky, Karl Kraus, Berthold Viertel, or Heinrich Heine, one detects criticism veiled in nostalgia or despair. Falk finds an entirely new tone for these songs, vocally through dynamic nuances and in spoken text with gentle, delicate hints, that gives them an even more timely effect.

- Horst Lamnek: "Der heiterer Wolf"
With Elena Larina (pianist)
Includes selections from the Mörike Lieder, Eichendorff Lieder, Goethe Lieder, Reinick Lieder, and Lied des transferierten Zettel
Coviello COV91716 (1 CD)
Bass-baritone Horst Lamnek and pianist Elena Larina have centered their program of Wolf Lieder on a less-noticed segment of his art song repertoire: those pieces of a cheerful (heiter) nature. However, that adjective really only applies to a few of the selections here, such as the Goethe Lieder (especially “Gutmann und Gutweib”), and “humorous” might be a better description. In most cases, the reference is to a character’s internal disposition toward the vagaries of life, best represented on this disc by Eichendorff’s Wanderlieder (“Der Musikant” and “Der Schäfer”). Songs about love affairs that don’t end sadly or tragically, and that are without a trace of melancholy also fall within the “cheerful” category. In the Mörike Lieder, one finds wit and irony, as in “Bei einer Trauung,” “Selbstgeständnis,” or “Abschied” (where a critic gets pitched down a flight of stairs). Often Wolf draws out the latent wit in the texts, above all through the “commentary” of the piano accompaniment – something that becomes apparent through Larina’s pointed, imaginative playing. Lamnek, who has appeared onstage in repertoire extending from Leporello to Klingsor, does full justice to these pieces with his robust voice, dry humor, and feel for the text.

- Marlis Petersen: “Dimensionen Welt: Mensch und Lied”
Stephan Matthias Lademann (pianist)
Lieder by Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, Schubert, Sommer, Brahms, Koch, and Wagner
Solo Musica SM 274 (1 CD)
This CD is the first part of a trilogy in which soprano Marlis Petersen uses the German art song as a means of exploring the meaning of life in times of uncertainty – sort of seeking the future in the past. This first part is divided into thematic segments she’s labeled Heaven and Earth, Humankind and Nature, Fate and Discovery, and Hope and Longing. Selections by famed Lied composers Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms are joined by pieces by from the German Romanticist Hans Sommer and the largely unknown Swede Sigurd von Koch – and Wagner’s “Stehe still” (“Stand still”). In her reading, Petersen builds a bridge between interpretive intelligence and intuition and spontaneity as well as technical assurance. For each different “dimension,” she invents her own “acoustic decorations” (reviewer’s description), in the center of which is her strong personality. She receives attentive support from pianist Matthias Lademann. On the basis of this album, one can look forward to the next two parts of this trilogy, “Anderswelt” (some other world) and “Innenwelt” (inner world).

- Marianne Crebassa: “Secrets”
Fazil Say (pianist)
Songs by Debussy, Ravel, Fauré, Duparc, and Say
Erato 9029576897 (1 CD)
After her terrific debut album, “Oh, Boy!,” with arias from operas by composers from Gluck to Hahn, Marianne Crebassa now turns her attention to the French art song of the Fin de Siècle on this new disc. She has completely mastered these pieces’ demand for nuanced treatment of music and text with the same assurance she showed in the “emotional eccentricities” of the breeches roles. She knows how to fit her technically perfect, virtuosic voice with impressively sensitive shaping into the intimacy of these songs. She captures the dreamy inward sensuality of Debussy’s Trois Chansons de Bilitis in all its subtle gradations, and shades the imaginary tints of a magically iridescent Arabia between seduction and violence in Ravel’s Shéhérazade with an enchanting wealth of colors. Crebassa fills Duparc’s “Au pays où se fait la guerre,” the lament of a woman desperately awaiting her husband’s return from war, with a sharp pain. Especially memorable is her account of the almost unknown song cycle Mirages of the later Fauré, in which the composer uses a syllabic, psalmodic parlar-cantando that stylistically goes far beyond Debussy and Ravel. The mezzo holds strictly to the rhythmical prosody of the text, but “spices” it with supple singing of an almost “narcotic” effect. She receives highly nuanced accompaniment from Fazil Say, the Turkish composer and pianist who is also represented on this CD by his Gezi Park 3, written in memory of the 2013 protest movement against the planned development of Istanbul’s Gezi Park. This is the third part of a trilogy, with a wordless vocal lamentation in the style of a ballad that asserts itself with endless twists and turns against the interruptions by the piano.

- Michaela Schuster: “Unvergänglichkeit (Immortality)”
With Matthias Veit (pianist)
Includes selections from Unvergänglichkeit, Op. 27, 6 einfache Lieder Op. 9, 4 Lieder des Abschieds Op. 14, 5 Lieder Op. 38, Die Gansleber im Hause Duschnitz (Korngold); Schlichte Weisen, Op. 76 (Reger); Lieder und Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit (Mahler); Wie lange noch?, Berlin im Licht, version for voice and piano, Nanna's Lied, Der Abschiedsbrief, Es regnet (Weil)
Oehms Classics OC1881 (1 CD)
This is a live recording of a Liederabend given by mezzo Michaela Schuster at the Marienmünster Abbey with a program of songs by Korngold, Mahler, Reger, and Weil that reflects the transition of the German art song from the Late Romantic period to the 20th century. Already known for her lauded album “Morgen,” which showcased her particular style of knowingly innocent, spontaneous access to the Lied without any artificiality, Schuster follows the same interpretive approach here. She finds the appropriate, intensive expression for this material’s widely varied textual content, and is partnered by the pianist Matthias Veit with a great deal of sensibility.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Berlioz: Les Troyens
Conductor: John Nelson
Cast: Michael Spyres, Joyce Di Donato, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Stéphane Degout, Nicolas Courjal, Marianne Crebassa, Hanna Hipp, Cyrille Dubois, Stanislas de Barbeyrac, Philippe Sly, Agnieszka Slawinska, et. al.
Erato 9029576220 (4 CDs + 1 DVD)
It took a century after Berlioz completed his mammoth opera based on Virgil’s Aeneid before this work was recorded, first in the studio by Sir Colin Davis and then later in a live performance with the same conductor, with Jon Vickers and Ben Heppner, respectively, as Énée. (My note: actually, several recordings preceded this one, with the earliest a 1947 version led by Sir Thomas Beecham.) But neither of these tenors, nor their leading ladies Berit Lindholm and Josephine Veasey (Vickers) and Michelle De Young and Petra Lang (Heppner) were French singers in the idiomatic sense. Conductor John Nelson, a declared Berlioz advocate, was able to assemble a predominantly French cast for a concert performance of the opera last April in Strasbourg, and in Americans Michael Spyres and Joyce Di Donato found two linguistically acculturated singers. The performance was a magnificent celebration of the Grand Opéra genre with a gigantic orchestra, additional stage orchestra, three choruses, and a total of 350 participants. Though some reviews at the time mentioned a certain nervousness at the premiere, there’s little of that to be detected in the marvelous montage Alain Lanceron assembled from three different concerts for this recording. Things get off to an excellent start, with Marie-Nicole Lemieux delivering Cassandre’s prophecies with the power of linguistically “chiseled” words, an expressive sharpening of her opulent mezzo, the requisite hardness for outcries such as “malheur,” and also gentle modulations in the scene with the fervent Chorèbe of Stéphane Degout. As Didon, Di Donato is no less expressive in the role than Dame Janet Baker (who does not appear to be represented on any complete recordings of this opera). The duet, “Nuit d’ivresse,” sung with a beautiful melding of her voice with that of Spyres’ Énée, is filled with an inner glow, and the dying, whispered phrases of “Adieu, cité” are heartrending. Spyres, who specializes in roles that were once the domain of Adolphe Nourrit and Gilbert Duprez, fearlessly masters the high-lying passages of “Inutiles regrets.” However, his voice never ignites in Énée’s panicked report of the death of the priest Laocoön (“Du peuple et des soldats”) in the way that Vickers’ big dramatic tenor blazes. Aside from bass Nicolas Courjal’s throaty, rumbling Narbal, the smaller roles are excellently cast with Marianne Crebassa (Ascagne), Hanna Hipp (Anna), Cyrille Dubois (Iopas), and Stanislas de Barbeyrac (Hylas). With his colossal forces, Nelson enjoys this monumental Grand Opéra to the fullest.

- Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande
Conductor: Sir Simon Rattle
Cast: Christian Gerhaher, Magdalena Kožená, Bernarda Fink, Franz-Josef Selig, Gerald Finley), Elias Mädler, Joshua Bloom
LSO Live LSO0790 (3 SACDs + 1 Blu-ray audio)
Sir Simon Rattle has conducted multiple productions of Debussy’s enigmatic opera, beginning in 1993 when he led performances of a Peter Sellars staging in Amsterdam. Concert performances in Salzburg and Berlin with Angelika Kirchschlager’s Mélisande followed, then a 2010 Met production with Magdalena Kožená (Lady Rattle) and Stéphane Degout in the leads; a semi-staged version in Berlin (again with Sellars) and Kožená and Christian Gerhaher in the title roles; and finally, at the beginning of 2017, the concert performance from the Barbican with the London Symphony Orchestra that’s heard on this recording. Conductor and orchestra dedicated the concert to the memory of Pierre Boulez, yet strove for an interpretation that countered Boulez’s almost neutral, objective approach to the work. Sir Simon and the LSO give a tonally luxurious reading with a “kaleidoscope” of glowing colors, fascinating chiaroscuro effects, and expressive orchestral details. However, among the cast members, there is not a single French singer, with Montréal native Gerald Finley (Golaud) the most idiomatic among them. Finley is nearly the equal in this regard of native speakers Gerard Souzay (Cluytens) and José van Dam (Karajan), but decidedly more energetic and dramatic than either of those individuals. In his portrayal, one hears wrath, fury, and in the Act IV scene with Arkel, coldness. Christian Gerhaher (Pelléas) once again proves himself a subtle, “exquisite” singer with his polished articulation, but his portrayal is more correct than eloquent. With Kožená’s vocally “mature” Mélisande, the reviewer misses the aura of a mysterious Sphinx, a woman Arkel describes as surrounded by an air étrange. Her vocal characterization has too much calculated effect about it, is too sensuously feminine – what the reviewer likens to a painting in oil instead of pastels. The Tölz Choirboy Elias Mädler is a “magnificent” Yniold, and there are superb contributions from Bernarda Fink (Geneviève) and Franz-Josef Selig (Arkel).

- Sophie Bevan: “Perfido!”
Conductor/orchestra: Ian Page, The Mozartists
Concert arias by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven
Signum SIGCD485 (1 CD)
In her album titled “Perfido!,” Sophie Bevan presents a program of concert arias by the three Viennese Classicists Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. All of these pieces deal with the loss of love, and vocally, the lyric soprano has good qualifications for this material. The framework for her recording is provided by two showpieces, Haydn’s “Scena di Berenice” and Beethoven’s “Ah, Perfido,” works by composers of two different generations that still have some amazing similarities in their dramatic air. Haydn’s classically restrained effect suits Bevan’s even, carefully produced instrument better than the extremes in Beethoven’s writing. There are some surprises among the selections here, such as the “astonishing” Metastasio setting “O temerario Arbace” by the 14 year-old Mozart, as well as his “Bella mia fiamma” from 1787 that, unlike most of these arias, views the subject from a male perspective and contains a dizzying downward harmonic spiral. The reviewer is most impressed by Haydn’s setting of the Petrarch sonnet, “Solo e pensoso,” in which the composer demonstrates with what freedom he could deal with a strict form.

- Schubert: Schwanengesang
Roman Trekel (baritone) and Oliver Pohl (pianist)
Oehms Classics (1 CD)
Ten years after their well-regarded recordings of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin and Die Winterreise, baritone Roman Trekel and pianist Oliver Pohl have brought out this new release with his Schwanengesang, though not in the standard configuration of 14 songs. Instead, their version is comprised of Schubert’s last 20 Lieder arranged in a new thematic order. At its center are two blocks of songs with texts by Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Trekel has a broad expressive spectrum, but also a questionable penchant for extremes through exaggerated dynamic contrasts. His declamation in songs such as “Der Atlas” and “Der Doppelgänger” takes him to his vocal limits. In strange contrast are other pieces where he sings lyrical phrases in a tender (almost cooing) mezza voce, among them the Rellstab setting “Liebesbotschaft” or the nearly whispered “Ständchen,” where the dynamic center gets lost in the shifts between mezza voce and full voice. Trekel’s instrument doesn’t always fulfill his interpretive intentions.

HISTORIC

- Meyerbeer: Les Huguenots (sung in German translation)
Conductor: Stefan Soltesz
Director: John Dew
Cast: Angela Denning, Lucy Peacock, Richard Leech, Hartmut Welker, Camille Capasso, Martin Blasius, et. al.
Euro Arts 8024201988 (1 DVD)
Richard Leech’s Raoul is almost all this 1991 German-language production of Meyerbeer’s opera from the Deutsche Oper Berlin has going for it. John Dew’s staging, which premiered in 1987, shortened the work by about 90 minutes (not exactly a small cut) and furnished it with effects that already seemed past their expiration date by the time of this revival. The opposing teams – K for Catholic (Katholisch) and P for Protestant – are encouraged in their efforts by cheerleaders; in the garden scene, the ladies-in-waiting splash around in a swimming pool; Queen Marguerite looks like some pop vamp; and at the end, the Berlin Wall collapses in a hail of bullets. Aside from Leech’s sterling contribution, the musical performance isn’t much better. Lucy Peacock is a pallid Valentine, Angela Denning is no match for Pilar Lorengar, the original Marguerite, and in the casting of the other central roles of Urbain, Marcel, Nevers, and Saint-Bris, the DOB’s management appears to have forgotten that four top-quality soloists are needed. Instead, what’s heard here is described by the reviewer as “serious aesthetic property damage.”

MAuer
February 2nd, 2018, 06:40 PM
A wide-ranging assortment of new opera recordings, several recital albums, and what must surely be the ultimate Pavarotti collection are reviewed in the February, 2018, issue of Das Opernglas (https://www.opernglas.de/). Here’s the summary:

RECOMMENDED

- Rossini: Guillaume Tell
Conductor: Sir Antonio Pappano
Director: Damiano Michieletto
Cast: Gerald Finley, Malin Byström, John Osborn, Sofia Fomina, Nicolas Courjal, Alexander Vinogradov, Enkelejda Shkosa, Eric Halfvarson, Michael Colvin, Samuel Dale Johnson, Enea Scala
Opus Arte OA1205D (2 DVDs)
The reviewer gives this video a favorable assessment overall, but cautions that director Damiano Michieletto’s production is not something for the faint-hearted, or those who prefer a traditional interpretation. When it premiered at the Royal Opera House in 2015, it touched off a vociferous protest by audience members who objected to the graphic depictions of violence onstage. This video comes from the third performance, when the most controversial parts had been toned down to some extent. The Regisseur has chosen to focus on the plot’s subject and the wartime conditions where murder, rape, and assault are part of daily occurrences, and less on the music. That’s not to say Michieletto goes against the musical structures, and within the framework of Rossini’s score, he does manage to shape characters whose plight is moving. With sets and costumes by Paolo Fantini and Carla Teti, respectively, there are many spectacular scenes and visual arrangements that vividly convey the director’s concept. A gigantic leafless, uprooted tree symbolizes a repressed populace who has lost its foundation, and at the same time serves as a reminder of the environmental devastation caused by wars. At first, one may hardly believe that the conventional family man Tell has it in him to become a leader, but over the course of events, he grows into a heroic figure who knows how to rouse the citizenry to action. The production team repeatedly conjures images of the menace and terror to which the Swiss people are exposed under the occupation, and if the viewer is willing to immerse him/herself in this setting and ignore the contradictions with music and libretto, he/she will experience a performance that, over long stretches, is serious, convincing, and exciting. On the musical side, Sir Tony Pappano leads a magnificent account of Rossini’s partitur by the superb ROH Orchestra that’s full of musical high points and instrumental details. With his perfectly controlled, focused, warm baritone, Gerald Finley brings a wealth of nuances to his portrayal of Tell. Malin Byström is a flawless Mathilde whose dark soprano is shown to best advantage by the recording microphone, and who uses fluid coloratura and wonderful long phrases to effectively shape her character. Tenor John Osborn is more than respectable in the “dangerously high-lying” role of Arnold. He delivers intimate moments as fearlessly and securely as he does dramatic passages, including the excursions up into extreme heights. Eric Halfvarson is a striking Melchtal, though Nicolas Courjal’s Gesler could do with a stronger presence vocally and visually. There are fine contributions from Sofia Fomina as a tomboyish Jemmy, Enkelejda Shkosa as Hedwige, and Dale Johnson as Leuthold.

- Saariaho: Only the Sound Remains
Conductor: André de Ridder
Director: Peter Sellars
Cast: Philippe Jaroussky, Davóne Tines; Nora Kimball-Mentzos (dancer)
Erato 9029575395 (1 DVD)
The title Only the Sound Remains is actually an umbrella name given to a pair of one-act chamber operas designed to be performed together, Always Strong and Feather Mantle. Both were inspired by dramas in the Japanese Noh tradition, with English librettos based on translations by Ezra Pound. In Always Strong, the monk Gyōkei summons the spirit of Tsunemasa, a young lute player who died under violent conditions and whose ghost has returned to the Imperial court. The spirit appears, accepts the Biwa lute Gyōkei placed on the altar as an offering to him, and then vanishes. Feather Mantle likewise involves two beings, one mortal and one supernatural. While out with his companions, the fisherman Hakuryō finds a beautiful robe of feathers hanging on a pine tree. But when he tries to take it home, an angel appears and asks him to return it to her. At first, he doesn’t want to part with the garment, but the angel pleads with him, saying she cannot return to her celestial home without it. He relents – partially – and says he’ll return the robe if she performs her dance for him. She agrees, and gradually vanishes in the mists of Mount Fuji. In this 2016 production from Amsterdam’s Opera Forward Festival, director Peter Sellers leaves plenty of room for the viewer’s imagination. In the beginning, the camera is focused on a largely abstract, apparently Japanese painting and restlessly leads the eye back and forth from one detail to another. Finally, the lens settles on the face of baritone Davóne Tines, and one gets to see every minute feature of his strongly expressive visage. The entire 50-minute work revolves around the mystery of the encounter between monk and spirit. As Gyōkei, Tines’ strong voice is contrasted with the marvelous, bell-like countertenor of Philippe Jaroussky, who sings the ghost of Tsunemasa. His face is also seen throughout the opera in super-sized close-up. The two bodies are slowly approaching each other over the course of the performance and finally meet in a passionate kiss. It’s also “astonishing” to see the “phenomenal” effects James F. Ingalls achieves with the lighting. The orchestra is remarkably small, consisting of the members of the Dudok Quartet plus a drummer, flautist, and Kantele (Finnish lute) player, and is led by André de Ridder. There is little dynamic variation in Saariaho’s music, but Ridder tries to make the “finely woven tonal carpet” (as the reviewer describes it) as interesting as possible. In Feather Mantle, Tines sings the role of Hakuryō, with Jaroussky assuming the part of the angel. With every note, the countertenor’s seraphic voice does suggest ethereally beautiful music, while the angel’s dance is performed by Nora Kimball-Mentzos with flowing, very graceful movements. As Hakuryō, Tines uses voice and facial expressions to reflect the fisherman’s shifting emotions, from surprise to doubt and then passion until he approaches the celestial being, whom he tenderly kisses. Sellars and Ingalls work extensively with light and shadow here as well, often with poetic results. Only toward the conclusion do some touches of color provide for a little variety in a generally monochromatic setting. Unlike the live performance in the theater, the video’s “extreme” close-ups open entirely new perspectives for the viewer, with the singers’ faces presented like an emotional landscape where the smallest psychological stirrings are perceptible.

- Rameau: Les Indes galantes
Conductor: Ivor Bolton
Director: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Cast: Lisette Oropesa, Goran Juric, Ana Quintans, Tareq Nazmi, Cyril Auvity, François Lis, Anna Prohaska. Matthias Vidal, John Moore; Dancers of Eastman
Bel Air Classiques BAC438 (1 Blu-ray disc)
When Rameau’s ballet opera had its premiere in 1735 at the Académie royale de musique, it consisted of a prologue and two acts, one set in Turkey and the other in Peru. It was only later that the composer added the third and fourth acts, where events take place in Persia and North America, respectively. Since each act illustrated different forms of “gallant” love and were not linked by a common plot thread, there was no difficulty in expanding the opera. This performance from the 2016 Munich Opera Festival features the later four-act version. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, a Flemish-Moroccan native of Antwerp, is responsible for both direction and choreography, and in his interpretation, links the work’s content with the plight of refugees. Their misery is the focal point – besides the love story of Tacmas and Zaïre – in the third (Persian) act. The manner in which Cherkaoui’s Dancers of Eastman depict characters’ individual fates is admirable, with the attempt to cross the sea dramatically captured in strong images and movements that convey the various dangers confronting them and making this scene deeply distressing to watch. Set designer Anna Viebrock devised a single, multipurpose space onstage that could be used in very versatile ways, suggesting a classroom, church, and much more. Moveable display cases are arranged in different configurations for quick scene changes and to produce a wide range of impressions. In the prologue, a group of school children is extremely bored by the instruction of Hébé until Cupid (Amor) shows up and sends them and the ballet dancers on a journey to faraway lands to learn about the assorted forms of love. As different as one would imagine the inhabitants of Turkey, Peru, and Persia, and Native Americans to be, Cherkaoui has completely dispensed with any “local color” in his staging and simply lets Greta Goires’ costumes indicate where the action is taking place. Most of the singers have been cast in two roles, so Lisette Oropesa appears as both the strict (and slightly caricatured) teacher Hébé in the prologue and as the ideal lover of Adario, the military commander, in the final act. Ana Quintans is a delightful Cupid and a no less attractive Zaïre, while Anna Prohaska makes a captivating Phani and Fatime. The touching intimacy she brings to her rendition of the aria, “Viens hymen,” in Act II makes the piece a highlight of this recording, and she lends great charm to her depiction of the butterfly’s fickleness in “Papillon inconstant” in Act III. François Lis is impressively masculine as Huascar and Don Alvaro; Goran Juric, in the travesty role of Bellone, convinces the schoolboys to join the army in a truly absurd fashion. Tareq Nazmi creates a very sympathetic portrait of the Turk Osman, and is also heard in the part of Ali. There are superb characterizations as well from Elsa Benoit (Emilie), Cyril Auvity (Valère and Tacmas), Matthias Vidal (Don Carlos and Damon), and John Moore (Adario). The Munich Festival Orchestra and Balthasar Neumann Choir always sound authentic and deliver a colorful, nuanced performance under the quite forceful conducting of Ivor Bolton.

- Dallapiccola: Il Prigioniero
Conductor: Dirk Kaftan
Cast: Markus Butter, Aile Asszonyi, Manuel von Senden, Roman Pichler, David McShane
Oehms Classics OC970 (1 CD)
Composers such as Alban Berg long ago proved that twelve-tone music is considerably more than an intellectual exercise. Among the works in this style that can touch and even distress the listener with their existential questions and themes is Luigi Dallapiccola’s Il Prigioniero, a 45-minute chamber opera in which the friendly voice of the jailer gives the prisoner hope. Too late the incarcerated man recognizes his hopeless position; the friendly jailer turns out to be the Grand Inquisitor, and the door to the prison garden leads not to freedom but to the stake. He realizes the tortures he’d previously endured weren’t as painful as his false hopes. For all its hardness, Dallapiccola’s score always lets the listener imagine a certain succession of melodies (the reviewer mentions Verdi) and thus provides for vocal expressivity. The twelve-tone sequences are associated with the concepts of prayer, hope, and freedom, and have helped this work gain the reputation of one of the most important Italian operas from the second half of the 20th century. This is a live recording of a performance last March at the Graz Opera, with former principal conductor Dirk Kaftan on the podium of the excellent Graz Philharmonic Orchestra. He draws playing with both chamber music transparency and abrupt outbursts from his engaged musicians. The soloists create dramatic tension at every moment; instead of singing notes, they depict individuals’ fate. In the quasi-hochdramatische lament of the prisoner’s mother, Aile Asszonyi screams out this woman’s hope, longing, and fear, but one can still detect that her dark soprano possesses a broad spectrum of tonal colors. Markus Butter’s beautiful baritone is ideally suited for expressing the prisoner’s existential threats and hopes, and is paired with vivid characterization. Manuel von Senden brings a lyrical character tenor to the role of the jailer/Grand Inquisitor, but still conveys this figure’s profoundly dangerous nature.

- Heggie: Great Scott
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Cast: Joyce DiDonato, Ailyn Pérez, Frederica von Stade, Nathan Gunn, Anthony Roth Costanzo, et. al.
Erato 9029594078 (2 CDs)
As librettist Terrence McNally observes in the booklet accompanying this live recording from the world premiere performance at the Dallas Opera (actually a compilation of recordings from several performances), Jake Heggie’s Great Scott is the quintessential American opera. Not only its plot, but Heggie’s music are characteristic of opera in the U.S. today. In the story, the world-famous diva Arden Scott has returned to her Midwestern hometown in the hopes of propping up the city’s struggling American Opera Company with the performance of an unknown bel canto work, Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompei, which she herself discovered in St. Petersburg archives. Simultaneously, the city’s National Football League team, the Grizzlies, has made it to the Super Bowl and the local citizenry is hoping for a championship. The company’s general director and Scott’s friend, Winnie Flato, has doubts that this obscure opera will be enough to persuade the city’s miserly millionaires to open their wallets again and provide the financial sponsorships necessary to ensure the organization’s survival. Scott, meanwhile, has some problems of her own. She sacrificed her private happiness for the sake of her career, and now finds herself confronted by an ambitious young rival from Eastern Europe, Tatyana Bakst, who is snapping up engagements that otherwise would have gone to Scott. In the end, the rediscovered opera is a success, but the Grizzlies lose the Super Bowl in the final minutes. At times, the action in Great Scott comes close to a sitcom, and it had the audiences in Dallas roaring with laughter – an enthusiasm those listening to this CD set will probably not be able to fully share. The reviewer notes that the problem isn’t the opera itself, but the decision to release the recording in audio rather than video format. As chaotic as things onstage occasionally are, it’s difficult to keep track of all the goings-on in the absence of the visual component. Part of this is also due to McNally’s attempt to cram into his story just about every problem besetting the opera world today. In addition to Scott’s young rival, there is also a “barihunk” who hangs out at the gym and misses no opportunity to remove his shirt, plus a large assortment of choristers, stagehands, singers’ neglected spouses, and donors. As indicated previously, Heggie’s music is typical of most modern American opera scores: tonal, singable, with occasional portions suggestive of musicals. What’s exciting in this case is the addition of bel canto elements when excerpts of the fictive rarity are performed. The standouts in the large cast are Joyce Di Donato in the title role, Frederica von Stade as Winnie, and Ailyn Pérez as Tatyana. Di Donato brings all of her considerable artistry to the part of Arden Scott and only reveals a vocal limit in the extreme high notes. Von Stade is a strong presence and her voice is still in fine condition. Pérez makes a strong impression as the ambitious Tatyana with her powerful midrange and deliberately showy high notes. Nathan Gunn is heard in the role of Arden’s former lover, displaying his warm baritone as he courts the favor of his ex. On the podium, Patrick Summers maintains the necessary oversight – something that likely wasn’t easy with Heggie’s stylistically heterogeneous score and all of the onstage mayhem.

- Franco Fagioli: Handel Arias
Conductor/orchestra: Zefira Valova, Il Pomo d’Oro
Excerpts from Oreste, Serse, Rinaldo, Imeneo, Il Pastor Fido, Rodelinda, Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Ariodante, and Partenope
Deutsche Grammophon 4797541 (1 CD)
For his latest album, the Argentinian countertenor has assembled a program of his favorite Handel arias, all of them belonging to characters he has portrayed onstage. His theatrical experience shows in his effort to express the emotions that a specific figure is feeling in a specific situation and reproduce them in the recording studio. He achieves this in an exemplary manner, so that the 14 selections sound exceptionally fresh and alive. He receives equally vital and subtle accompaniment from the HIP ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro led by concertmaster Zefira Valova. Fagioli’s colorful choice of material takes the listener from Rinaldo (1711), Handel’s first opera composed for London, to Imeneo from 1740. It’s hard to determine which aspect of his artistry is most admirable, whether it be the “unbelievably virtuosic” coloratura, the sensuous style of his singing, or the emotional truthfulness of his interpretations.

- Dorothee Mields: “La dolce vita”
Conductor/orchestra: Wolfgang Katschner, Lautten Compagney
Arias and madrigals by Monteverdi
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi G0100038116431 (1 CD)
In the wake of the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth in 2017, the pleasure and amazement in the discovery of his fabulous music continue. The soprano Dorothee Mields and the Baroque specialist Wolfgang Katschner with his HIP orchestra Lautten Compagney have developed this program, titled “La dolce vita,” with selections that deal with the subject of love – secular, sacred, and erotic. With exceptional feeling for style and nuance, Katschner has either revised the instrumentation or sometimes entirely rewritten it for the arias from the madrigals. Mields’ light, finely rounded soprano is heard to best advantage in this music, and it’s a pleasure to listen to her “seraphically beautiful” singing. Among the offerings here are a “deliciously” saucy self-portrait by a shepherdess, “Io son pur vezzosetta,” and the madrigal Con che soavità with its excitingly sensuous undertone.

- Benno Schachtner: “Clear or Cloudy”
With Axel Wolf (lute), Jakob David Rattinger (viola da gamba), Andreas Küppers (harpsichord)
Songs by Dowland, Purcell, Johnson, Blow, and Hume
Accent ACC24333 (1 CD)
The Bavarian countertenor Benno Schachtner received his earliest musical training as a boy soprano with the Ulm Cathedral choir, then continued his studies in Detmold and Basel. With his new album devoted to English lute songs, he solidifies his reputation as one of Germany’s best representatives of this Fach. His program is centered on pieces by John Dowland, Henry Purcell, and Robert Hume, with most of the songs being of a deeply melancholic, very intimate nature. The first slowly swelling notes from Purcell’s “Music for a While” with which this disc begins are sung by Schachtner with flawless beauty and (as the reviewer phrases it) “lead the listener into a magical world.” The singer is accompanied by Axel Wolf (lute), Jakob David Rattinger (viola da gamba), and Andreas Küppers (harpsichord). A few instrumental solo works provide for variety.

PLUSES AND MINUSES

- Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer
Conductor: Pablo Heras-Casado
Director: Àlex Ollé (La Fura dels Baus)
Cast: Samuel Youn, Ingela Brimberg, Kwangchul Youn, Nikolai Schukoff, Kai Rüütel, Benjamin Bruns
Harmonia Mundi HMD980906061 (1 DVD + 1 Blu-ray)
If Wagner had already shown the sea’s horrifying side in this opera, director Àlex Ollé (La Fura dels Baus) goes a step farther in his production that was originally designed for the Opéra de Lyon, but is seen here in a performance from Madrid’s Teatro Real. He has relocated the action from a Norwegian fishing village in the 18th century to the beach at Chittagong, Bangladesh, at the present time. Chittagong is known as the worldwide center for the scrap industry dealing in large, oceangoing ships, something that has also given the city a dubious reputation for the environmental destruction caused by this industry and the toxic substances to which its workers are exposed. It’s on this beach where Daland’s ship lands, the Dutchman’s crew already living in its hold. Over the course of the opera, the vessel is progressively dismantled and its metal fragments piled up on the beach, where the mounds of sand look like an enormous mattress. Alfons Flores’ sets make an impression with their sheer size and some outstanding video projections, such as when waves appear to flood the beach at the opera’s end and take all of the disaster with them. However, the manner in which the intellectual content of this work is conveyed through a present-day, realistic world and the “ships’ Hell” on the Indian Ocean remains a debatable (weak) point of the staging concept. Certainly, one can find appropriate analogies for Daland, who’s willing to sell his daughter for material gain, for the Dutchman’s cursed crew, or the value of an individual life with respect to Senta’s sacrifice. But Ollé’s conventional (in a positive sense) Personenführung shows the viewer something different – people he/she would know from “classical” stagings of this opera where their conflicts are correctly depicted, but no workers, refugees, or pirates. With respect to the musical performance, Ingela Brimberg is a passionate Senta with a “stupendously secure” top, and even if her soprano doesn’t always possess the maximum amount of tonal sweetness and is often produced with rather much pressure, her portrayal is the outstanding feature of this recording. With most of the other cast members, it’s evident that all of them are trying to produce a big sound, perhaps out of concern their voices may not be able to fill the Teatro Real’s auditorium. In this regard, Samuel Youn’s Dutchman leaves little to be desired dramatically, even if his powerful Heldenbariton doesn’t display much textual clarity. His most nuanced singing is heard in the duet with Senta. Kwangchul Youn (Daland) wields his attractive bass in a very “muscular” fashion, with marked vibrato as the result. As Erik, Nicolai Schukoff seems more concerned with drama and excitement than cultivated singing with luster and legato, though his radiant tenor is capable of producing beautiful piani. The ensemble is completed by Benjamin Bruns’ proven Steersman and Kai Rüütel as Mary. Even more so than the solid Chorus (prepared by Andrés Máspero), the Teatro Real Orchestra under Pablo Heras-Casado impresses with its appropriately “stormy” playing, while not neglecting the many tranquil or sprightly moments. Especially noteworthy are the beautiful woodwind solos.

- Wagner: Die Walküre
Conductor: Christian Thielemann
Director: Vera Nemirova (original production by Günther Schneider-Siemssen)
Cast: Peter Seiffert, Georg Zeppenfeld, Vitalij Kowaljow, Anja Harteros, Anja Kampe, Christa Mayer, Johanna Winkel, Alexandra Petersamer, Brit-Tone Müllertz, Christina Bock, Stepánka Pucálková, Katrin Wundsam, Simone Schröder, Katharina Magiera
C Major 742808 (2 DVDs)
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Salzburg Easter Festival last year, Intendant Peter Ruzicka and his team decided to recreate the first Festival’s production of Die Walküre. More precisely, they revived Günther Schneider-Siemssen’s sets. That’s particularly apparent on the DVD or Blu-ray recording, where one sees recognizably modern, contemporary figures performing what amounts to a chamber opera on a historically-inspired stage. Jens Kilian, who was responsible for the reconstruction of Schneider-Siemssen’s original scenery, doesn’t ignore the relationship of Die Walküre to the world of mythological legend. Along with their modern garb, the protagonists wear breastplates and furs and carry spears. The soloists are able to bring these figures to life and imbue them with at least some stage presence. Nonetheless, director Vera Nemirova has dispensed with any sort of consistently exciting, psychologically inspired Personenführung; especially in the scenes with Wotan, the “fever curve” drops and the static scene with the Valkyries, which contradicts the textual logic, does not attain the expected standard. Of central interest with this production was how the original creation would be adapted to modern stage technology. Many of the background projections have the flair of bygone opera stagings and quite a few of them have been altered to seem as if in slow motion – something that’s managed in a subtle, inconspicuous, and atmospheric manner. On screen, though, the first act looks really old-fashioned, with the close-ups diverting attention from the impressive size of the World Ash tree to the smaller details and a very “normal,” dark set. Things have a clearly more abstract appearance in the following acts, where the camera’s perspective lends greater impact to the “cosmic” background projections. One first sees a gigantic elliptical disc (which actually looks like a ring in the accompanying photo to me), which is subsequently reconfigured and, in the third act, transformed into a rock-like surface that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a production from Wagner’s lifetime. The skillful use of lighting and some stage fog evoke particular moods that are also at least partially perceptible on video. If the Easter Festival of half a century ago was dominated by Herbert von Karajan, the same role is now filled by Christian Thielemann. The conductor is in his element with Wagner, and his Staatskapelle Dresden also puts its stamp on this performance. Whether it’s the “sovereign” brass, the “impassioned” strings, or the exemplary solo woodwinds, the music the Dresdeners produce sounds like a unified whole and provides the soloists an ideal foundation for largely unforced, textually clear singing. Anja Harteros is a sensuous Sieglinde who clearly shapes the recitative-like passages and whose soprano blossoms in the upper register. Making her debut as Brünnhilde, Anja Kampe displays a secure, though often somewhat strained soprano and great dramatic engagement. Christa Mayer is a Fricka of proven quality, and Peter Seiffert impresses with his very long “Wälse” outcries and lusty “So blühet den, Wälsungen-Blut.” That his Heldentenor is no longer entirely fresh can be detected in his vibrato and low register, but it still possesses the power, stamina, and tonal beauty for Siegmund. Georg Zeppenfeld’s precisely deployed bass makes one wish the role of Hunding were more substantial, while Vitalij Kowaljow lends Wotan the beautiful, full sound of his quite large Heldenbariton, though he doesn’t have the stage and linguistic presence of his colleagues that would give this figure the requisite authority.

- Mozart: Il Sogno di Scipione
Conductor: Ian Page
Cast: Stuart Jackson, Soraya Mafi, Klara Ek, Chiara Skérath, Krystian Adam, Robert Murray
Signum SIGCD499 (2 CDs)
Earlier, it was Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Theodor Currentzis, and Jérémie Rhorer who recorded cycles of Mozart’s operas. Now it’s the British conductor Ian Page’s turn, and he’s begun his series with this largely unfamiliar work by the young composer. Like at least two of his predecessors, Page has opted for a unified ensemble of young singers rather than engaging major international stars for his project. In Il Sogno di Scipione, the sleeping Scipio Africanus the Younger is visited in a dream by Costanza (Constancy) and Fortuna (Fortune), and after a good deal of philosophical expatiating by both of these ladies, wisely chooses to cast his lot with Costanza. Stuart Jackson makes a convincing Scipione with his attractive, flexible tenor, though he comes up against his limits a little in the extreme heights. Sopranos Klara Ek and Soraya Mafi are pleasing as the rivals Costanza and Fortuna, respectively. With their secure upper registers and fluid coloratura, they capably master the virtuosic demands of their arias. What’s occasionally still missing is the vocal individuality that would make it easier for the listener to distinguish these two characters from each other. There are solid contributions from Krystian Adam (Publio) and Robert Murray (Emilio), while Chiara Skérath (Licenza) draws favorable notice with her attractive soprano. However, her upper register doesn’t sound completely free. Maestro Page conducts Mozart’s score with stylistic assurance and verve, leading the competent original instrument ensemble Orchestra of Classical Opera, which he founded.

- Godard: Dante
Conductor: Ulf Schirmer
Cast: Edgaras Montvidas, Véronique Gens, Jean-François Lapointe, Rachel Frenkel, Andrew Lepri Meyer, Diana Axentii
Ediciones Singulares ES1029 (1 CD + book)
At first glance, this latest discovery by the “treasure hunters” at the Palazzeto Bru Zane looks promising. The composer Benjamin Godard has at least one popular tune to his credit with the Berceuse (lullaby) from his opera Jocelyn, and librettist Édouard Blau enjoys an excellent reputation as one of the co-authors of the text for Massenet’s Werther. Unfortunately, this opera based on the life of the famed poet Dante Alighieri doesn’t live up to either gentleman’s good name. Basing an opera on Dante’s life is in itself an interesting idea, but here it loses something in the translation, so to speak. Blau has skillfully maneuvered Dante and his muse, Beatrice Portinari, into the usual plot situations, but doesn’t make them any more than conventional figures. With all of Godard’s technical competence, his “gaudy” score is singularly lacking in ideas and reinforces many of the clichés associated with opera. What may be most astonishing in this case is that the scholars at the Palazetto Bru Zane who initiated the revival of this work must actually regard it as an unjustly forgotten masterpiece and were able to obtain outstanding interpreters to perform it. Tenor Edgaras Montvidas, already known from previous recordings on the Ediciones Singulares label, sings the title role with lustrous tone and great passion, while the part of Beatrice has been ideally cast with Véronique Gens, who displays a crystal-clear, wonderfully focused soprano. With these two strong leads, it’s inconsequential that the other characters remain quite pallid. The Bavarian Broadcasting Chorus, prepared by Stellario Fagone, impresses right from the first scene with their forceful, concentrated vocal power. Ulf Schirmer, principal conductor of the Munich Radio Orchestra, is an engaged advocate for Godard’s score, but even he and his musicians, who play with opulent, always transparent tonal beauty, still can’t rescue this mediocrity.

- Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek: Benzin (Petrol/Gasoline)
Conductor: Frank Beermann
Cast: Johanna Stojkovic, Carsten Süss, Kouta Räsänen, Guibee Yang, Andreas Kindschuh, Susanne Thielemann, Matthias Winter, et. al.
cpo 7776532 (2 CDs)
This is a strange hybrid that the Chemnitz Opera has revived and given its world premiere after its score spent more than 80 years in its composer/librettist’s files – half comic opera, half revue, spiced with several ingredients that were popular in the late 1920s, from the “body cult” (physical fitness craze?) to the (cautious) women’s emancipation, and the fascination with air travel. Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek loosely based his libretto on Pablo Calderón de la Barca’s El mayor encanto, amor, which itself was inspired by the Circe narrative in Homer’s Odyssey, and added some references to the real-life exploits of the Zeppelin pilot Hugo Eckener. In Reznicek’s opera, the hero is named Ulysses Eisenhardt, and he’s determined to set a new time record for flying around the globe. But shortly before he completes the trip, his airship runs low on fuel and he’s forced to land on some (unnamed) American island. Gladys Thunderbolt (!), the daughter of a U.S. billionaire, rules the roost here and uses hypnosis to transform her visitors into animals. Only Eisenhardt is able to resist her, and in revenge, Gladys tries to detain him on her island. But since her own arts of seduction aren’t sufficient, she sends her girlfriend Violet to do the job instead. Violet, however, is already enamored of Eisenhardt’s engineer, Freidank, and by the opera’s end, this couple joins Eisenhardt to complete the journey around the world. Reznicek’s music is as much of a patchwork as his libretto. In the “operatic” segments, it sounds like Strauss, with a bit of Stravinsky and Prokofiev also in the mix. In between are passages with popular dance rhythms from that decade, especially jazz. Chemnitz’s longtime General Music Director Frank Beermann does his best to strike some sparks out of all this, but can’t form an arc of dramatic excitement from Reznicek’s score. There is an enormous cast, but many roles only function as cue-givers. Vocally, the “second couple” has the edge, with Guibee Yang’s Violet displaying easy, sparkling coloratura in her efforts to captivate the dashing Freidank of Andreas Kindschuh with his attractive Kavaliersbariton. In contrast, Johanna Stojkovic’s Gladys is quite stiff, with an occasionally sharp upper register, while Carsten Süss sings Eisenhardt with a lusterless tenor.

- Sonya Yoncheva: The Verdi Album
Conductor/orchestra: Massimo Zanetti, Munich Radio Orchestra
Arias from Il Trovatore, Luisa Miller, Attila, Stiffelio, La Forza del Destino, Otello, Simon Boccanegra, Don Carlo, and Nabucco
Sony 88985417982 (1 CD)
This new recital disc by the Bulgarian soprano can only be recommended to a very limited degree. Obviously, the singer was not in the best vocal condition when she entered the recording studio. Certainly, some good qualities in her singing are evident: the sturdy, firm midrange, the dark timbre that naturally conveys the elegiac aspects of the music, the above-average coloratura, and most of all, the artistic phrasing. In the first selection, Leonora’s “Tacea la notte . . . Di tale amor” from Il Trovatore, she plays wonderfully with her breathing, drawing broad cantilenas and using the audible intake of air in the cabaletta as an expressive means. Her trills are solid, and some darkened vowels help set the mood in the early part of the aria – though this comes at the expense of clear diction. Also more than passable is the aria from Luisa Miller, “Tu puniscimi,” where Yoncheva’s drive creates an impact. But then comes the scene from Attila, “Liberamente or piangi,” where what was only occasionally detected in her singing previously now occurs with much more frequency. In its higher reaches, her voice sounds tight, even squeezed. Modulations in tonal color are no longer possible, sharp notes and a marked vibrato stand out, and there is no compensation offered by the dramatic “bite” that many Italian singers display in such instances. An aria from Stiffelio creates a similar impression; Yoncheva “spells out” the lyrical passages near the end of the scene without any elegance. In “Pace, mio Dio” from La Forza del Destino, there are more sharp notes, but fewer of them in Desdemona’s “Ave, Maria,” where textual and agogic accents invigorate the soprano’s rendition of this piece. Amelia’s “Come in quest’ora bruna” from Simon Boccanegra and Elisabetta’s “Tu che le vanità” are reasonably convincing, and there is a furious, dramatic conclusion to her program with Abigaille’s “Salgo già del trono aurato.” Massimo Zanetti provides routine accompaniment.

BOX SETS

“Pavarotti: The Complete Operas”
Various conductors and orchestras
Includes Beatrice di Tenda, La Fille du Régiment, L’Amico Fritz, Der Rosenkavalier, L’Elisir d’Amore, Un Ballo in Maschera, Macbeth, Rigoletto, Lucia di Lammermoor, Turandot, La Bohème, I Puritani, Madama Butterfly, La Favorita, Maria Stuarda, Luisa Miller, Cavalleria Rusticana, I Pagliacci, Il Trovatore, Tosca, Guglielmo Tell, La Traviata, La Sonnambula, La Gioconda, Mefistofele, Andrea Chénier, Idomeneo, Norma, Aida, Ernani, Manon Lescaut, Don Carlo, I Lombardi alla prima crociata, and Turandot; Verdi’s Requiem, Rossini’s Stabat Mater and Petite Messe solennelle, Donizetti’s Requiem, and Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts (Requiem)
Decca 4832417 (95 CDs and 6 Blu-ray discs)
The late great Italian tenor – like his mentors Dame Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge – was one of the few artists who remained with a particular recording label for the majority of his long career, namely Decca. That’s reason enough for the label to bring out a really successful box set to mark the 10th anniversary of his death. In addition to the numerous opera recordings Pavarotti made for Decca, there are also some “excursions” to the competition that are included in this compilation of 95 CDs and six Blu-ray discs with original cover artwork. The discs are accompanied by a hard cover book as well, with an essay by James Jolley, reminiscences by colleagues such as Mirella Freni, countless photos, and a very “compelling” chronology of the tenor’s recordings, beginning with Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda in 1966. After that, hardly a year went by without Decca releasing a complete opera recording featuring Pavarotti. And they’re all here, even when his only contribution is a single aria (the Italian Singer’s “Di rigori armato” from Der Rosenkavalier). There is his unforgettable Rodolfo opposite Freni’s Mimi in the Karajan La Bohème, as well as his Edgardo, Alfredo, Manrico, Duca, and many other roles where Dame Joan is his leading lady. This Decca “circle” finally closed in 1997 with I Lombardi from New York. In the later stages of his career, the tenor made some recordings for other labels, such as another La Traviata on Deutsche Grammophon that mainly served to promote DG’s new soprano star, Cheryl Studer, or Don Carlo from La Scala conducted by Riccardo Muti for EMI (now Warner Classics). Of special interest in this collection may be a live recording of La Bohème from April, 1961, at Reggio Emilia with the young Pavarotti making his stage debut under the baton of Francesco Molinari-Pradelli.

- Claudio Abbado: The Opera Collection
Includes complete recordings of Fidelio, Wozzeck, Carmen, Pelléas et Mélisande, Die Zauberflöte, Don Giovanni, Le Nozze Di Figaro, Khovanshchina, Il Barbiere di Siviglia (2), L’Italiana in Algeri, La Cenerentola, Il Viaggio a Reims, Fierrabras, Aida, Don Carlos, Falstaff, Macbeth, Simon Boccanegra, Un Ballo in Maschera, and Lohengrin
Deutsche Grammophon (60 CDs)
The late Claudio Abbado’s swift ascent to the top rank of leading international conductors coincided with Deutsche Grammophon’s peak production years in the 1970s and ‘80s. During this period, he led many outstanding complete opera recordings for the label, all of them featuring casts with the best available soloists. They’re all here in this new box set from DG: Simon Boccanegra from La Scala with Piero Cappuccilli, José Carreras, Mirella Freni, and Nicolai Ghiaurov (1977); Macbeth with Cappuccilli, Shirley Verrett, Plácido Domingo, and Ghiaurov (1976); La Cenerentola with Teresa Berganza and Luigi Alva (1971); and Il Viaggio a Reims with Katia Ricciarelli, Ruggero Raimondi, Samuel Ramey, Leo Nucci, and Francisco Araiza (1983), to name a few. There are also Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina and Mozart’s Don Giovanni with Simon Keenlyside (Giovanni) and Bryn Terfel (Leporello). Over the course of his long career, Abbado did not deem himself too good to support new stars when they recorded solo albums, among them Jonas Kaufmann, Anna Netrebko, Roberto Alagna, and Terfel. Those “exquisite” recitals are also contained in this set.

- Leonard Bernstein: The Remastered Edition
Sony 88985417142 (100 CDs)
For sheer size, it may be hard to top this collection of remastered recordings by Leonard Bernstein that Sony has released in anticipation of the charismatic conductor and composer’s 100th birthday this year. (One CD per year?) Composers represented in this enormous set extend from Haydn and Beethoven to Schumann, Brahms, Berlioz, and Mahler, and on to Stravinsk