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Thread: Modern and Contemporary Opera on DVD, blu-ray, and CD

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  1. #31
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Busoni: Doktor Faust on Bu-ray

    This is a live 2006 recording from the Opernhaus Zürich.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Highly recommended! This will enter the select cycle of my favorite opera DVDs/blu-rays.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); April 19th, 2012 at 03:03 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  2. #32
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Soave_Fanciulla's Avatar
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    Having reread the book just before watching the DVD, I was very impressed at the way the librettists adapted it to bring out the principal themes: the two-minute hate, the intrusive broadcasts with meaningless statistics and absurd claims of military victory against the ever-shifting enemy, Winston’s job rewriting the past in the ministry of Truth, his little acts of rebellion, the apparatchik Parsons and his foul spying children, Symes and his paean to Doublespeak, physical jerks, the hanging of the prisoner, the bomb, the meeting with Julia and falling in love, renting the room, plotting with O’Brien in his Inner Party apartment, the waiting room at the Ministry of Love, the torture scenes, and the rats and the breaking of Winston, and finally the meeting with Julia when love is dead.

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

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

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

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

  3. #33
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Soave_Fanciulla's Avatar
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    I am aware that there is a lot of controversy surrounding the politics of this DVD, and I don't want to get into the rights and wrongs of the issues surrounding it.

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

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

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

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

  4. #34

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

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

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

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

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

  5. #35

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

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

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

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

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

    Overall: B, recommended for avant-garde Opera lovers.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); December 23rd, 2017 at 06:02 PM.

  6. #36

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

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

    Die Vogel - Duet

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

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

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

    A brief sample:

    Braunfels - Johanna

    Overall: B+, recommended for all Opera lovers.

  7. #37

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

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

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

    A few musical bits:

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

    Verlobung - 1

    2) The beautiful second Act overture.

    Verlobung - 2[/QUOTE]

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

  8. #38

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

    The Mask of Orpheus
    Lyric Tragedy in Three Acts

    Music by Harrison Birtwistle / Libretto by Peter Zinoviev

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

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

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


    First Poem of Reminiscence

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

  9. #39
    Perhaps some members are not yet familiar with the work of composer Veniamin Fleishman.

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

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

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

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

    Let's listen to the beginning of this opera:

    Fleishman - Rothschild's Violin

    Overall: B-, recommended for the curious listener.

  10. #40

    Salvatore Sciarrino

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

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

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

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

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

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

    the latest version, with a reviewed score by Sciarrino.

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


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

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

    One scene in youtube:

    Overall: A, recommended for all Opera lovers
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); December 23rd, 2017 at 06:03 PM.

  11. #41

    L'Amour de loin - Kaija Saariaho

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

    Conductor: Kent Nagano
    Orchestra: Berlin Symphonic

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

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

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

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

  12. #42
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post

    and, by far the best one in my view, Luci mie traditrici, written in 1998, using an ensemble of 22 musicians and four soloist voices, that some reviewers were as far as to salute like the new Pelléas et Mélisande of the end of the 20th century.

    Overall: A, recommended for all Opera lovers
    Agreed. I reviewed it as well, post #6 here.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  13. #43

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

    This is the English revised version.

    James Ensor: Death Chasing the Flock of Mortals

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

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

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

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

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

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

    This version is good enough, a nice team work.

    A small example, the fragment "Dies Irae":

    Dies Irae

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

  14. #44

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

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

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

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

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

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

  15. #45

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

    Conductor - Lawrence Renes
    Stage Director - Peter Sellars

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

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

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

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

    The orchestra, chorus and conductor are just adequate.

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

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