Auteur: basiaconfuoco

muziek journalist

Prokofjeff door Nicholas Angelich: een aanwinst

De in 1970 in Cincinnati (Ohio) geboren Nicholas Angelich kreeg zijn eerste pianolessen van zijn moeder. Angelich bleek een wonderkind te zijn: op zijn zevende debuteerde hij met de uitvoering van Mozarts nr.21 en op zijn dertiende werd hij toegelaten tot het Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Parijs, waar hij les kreeg van o.a. Aldo Ciccolini en Yvonne Loriod.

Op zijn nieuwe album speelt Angelich pianowerken van Sergei Prokofjeff, zelf ook een virtuoze pianist. Zijn grootste hit Romeo en Julia ontbreekt er uiteraard niet, ook de fascinerende Vision Fugitives doet er aan mee. Prokofjeffs pianosonates zijn minder bekend, welkom dus, al is het maar één.

Even dit: het is werkelijk fenomenaal wat Angelich doet. Zijn spel is virtuoos en het is duidelijk dat hij er goed over heeft nagedacht. Ik bewonder zijn aanslag, zijn goed gekozen tempi en nog meer zijn legato en de soepele wisselingen tussen piano, pianissimo en forte.

En toch mis ik iets, en dat iets hoor ik het duidelijkst in de pianosonate. O ja, ik weet best wel dat Prokofjeff vaak balanceerde tussen het ene en de andere (zelf in te vullen), maar Angelich is hier, voor mij althans, iets te mechanisch bezig waardoor het romantiek onderspit delft. Niettemin: een aanwinst.

Visions Fugitives, Piano Sonata No. 8, Romeo & Juliet
Warner Classics 9029526768

Plácido Domingo and Puccini: a match made in heaven

Puccini Domingo

Sometimes I think that Placido Domingo must be the reincarnation of Puccini. Not because they look so similar (although they are very much alike in the photos), but because of the music. It seems to have been created for Domingo’s timbre. It is as if Puccini composed with Domingo’s voice in mind.


And yet (or perhaps because of this): there is no other repertoire that shows as clearly whether a role suits him or not. He was never a memorable Rodolfo and his Pinkerton was not noteworthy. Even as Calaf, despite the great performances, he did not really identify with the role. He was too friendly, too kind, too human.


Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Domingo Puccini"


Domingo sang his very first Cavaradossi on 30 September 1961 and since then he has sung more performances of Tosca than of any other opera. This is the role he researched with the utmost care. He even added some qualities to the painter’s character that are not really there, in my opinion.

Personally, I find Cavarodossi’s flirtation with the revolution no more than a whim, but Domingo takes it dead serious and sees himself not only as the lover but also as the freedom fighter. From the start, he knows that the execution is actually going to take place, but he is playing along with the lie to spare his beloved Floria. Very humane and very moving.

tosca Nilsson


He sang his first Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera in 1969. It was not planned: he took over at the last minute for the sick Sándor Kónya. Birgit Nilsson was Tosca. In her memoirs, she stated that she found his acting ‘superb’ and his singing ‘gorgeous’.

It was indeed a memorable performance, not least because of Nilsson’s ‘scream’.


Fortunately, the performance was recorded for radio and was released on CD (Nuova Era 2286/870).

Tosca Scotto
Of the studio recordings, two are very dear to me. On Warner Classics (5665042), Renata Scotto meticulously sings all the notes prescribed by Puccini ( her colleagues are not always as scrupulous) and Renato Bruson is very ‘courteously dangerous’ as Scarpia.

Tosca Price


RCA (88697448122) has recorded one of the best Scarpias ever: Sherrill Milnes. I once heard him live in the role and it was a real experience! Leontyne Price is a sultry Tosca.

Tosca Kabaivanska


On DVD, I find the Decca film version (0434909) by far the most impressive. It was shot on location in 1976, which was not very common at the time. Well, location… The Palazzo Farnese was then home to the French Embassy, so filming was not allowed inside.

Milnes was once again present and the lead role was sung in a very tormented way by Raina Kabaivanska.

Domingo is so beautiful it makes you want to cry, but what gives the film that little bit extra is the tiny role of the little shepherd. It is sung by Placido junior, then 10 years old.



Manon Domingo


Another Puccini role that fits him like a glove is Des Grieux in Manon Lescaut. Of this opera with Domingo, there are many recordings, both studio and live. Not all of them are worth listening to and in most cases it is the interpreter of the title role who presents the problem. It is nothing new: when a record company had a new ‘star’, he or she just had to record everything available. With often disastrous results.

Manon Domingo Olivero


In 1970, Domingo sang Des Grieux in Verona, with Magda Olivero in the title role. Quite bizarre when you consider that Olivero made her professional debut eight years before Domingo was born. And yet: her portrayal of the young heroine is utterly convincing. Indeed, most of her colleagues still cannot match it! My copy was released on Foyer, but better quality editions are now available.

Manpn Domingo Scotto


In 1980, the opera was broadcast on TV. That recording is now available on DVD. Believe me: there is no better. Scotto sings and acts Manon like no one else has done before, and together with Domingo, she makes us cry with the beauty and the sadness of it all. Menotti’s very realistic, true to life and very exciting direction simply could not be better. A MUST (DG 073424)




Luigi in Il Tabarro was also a role after Domingo’s own heart. His recording from 1968 with the New York City Opera, conducted by Julius Rudel (Melodram 17048) is splendid, with Jeannine Crader as Giorgietta, a wonderful singer who sadly never made it in Europe.

Il Tabarro


On DVD, there is a fine Zeffirelli production from New York, recorded in 1994. Giorgietta is sung by Teresa Stratas. Unfortunately, it is coupled with Pagliacci with Pavarotti and again with Stratas, in the leading roles. Not really my ‘cup of tea’ (DG0734024).


Below a curiosity: a duet from Il Tabarro with Domingo and Beverly Sills from 1967



Puccini Edgar
There are at least two good reasons to welcome the 2006 Edgar (DG 4776102): it is the very first studio recording of the work and it is the first time that Domingo sings the role, the only one still missing from his Puccini discography.


I never understood why the opera was so unloved. Musically, it is in line with Verdi, but one can already hear tentative fragments of the ‘real’ Puccini: a vague promise of Manon Lescaut, a study for La Bohème and creative exercises for Turandot.

With Adriana Damato and Marianne Cornetti, we can welcome a new generation of phenomenal singers and Domingo is, as always, very musical and committed.


La Faciulla Dominfgo Neblett cd


For me, the very best is a 1978 DG recording (4748402), with an underrated Carol Neblett as a very fierce Minnie. Domingo is a languorous and surprisingly lyrical Johnson, and Sherrill Milnes sounds like he’s in a real western.

La Fanciulla Domingo Zam[ieri dvd


Two worthwhile recordings have appeared on DVD. One with Mara Zampieri and Juan Pons (Opus Arte OA LS3004 D) from La Scala, 1991, in a beautiful, colourful direction by Jonathan Miller.

La Fanciulla Domingo Neblett dvd


The other is with Carol Neblett and Silvano Carroli (Kultur Video 2038) from the Royal Opera House, 1982.



Dommingo Puccini


There were once plans to make a feature film about Puccini, in which Domingo would play the composer. It did not go ahead. In preparation for the project, Domingo recorded all Puccini’s songs in 1989, under the title Unknown Puccini (Sony 44981).

For the cover, he is made to look like Puccini and there he is: dressed in white, hat on his head and the moustache prominent on his face. Puccini to the life!

Anyway, it is all about the music and it is a must- have for anyone interested in Puccini. Most are first ever recordings and gradually you follow the composer on his path towards his Manon’s, Tosca’s and other ‘girls’. The renowned conductor Julius Rudel accompanies Domingo on piano and organ.


Domingo and Wagner


domingo tannhauser

I have never been a ‘Wagnerian’. I could never muster the patience to sit through hours of his operas. I found them bombastic. Pathetic. And even though I had to admit that there were some beautiful melodies, I felt that I really needed a pair of scissors and radically shorten them

That this feeling has totally changed, I owe to Domingo. In my collector’s mania (I had to have everything he had done), I bought the recently released Tannhäuser (DG 4276252) in 1989. And then it happened: I became addicted.

At first, it was mainly Domingo who was to ‘blame’, whose deeply human interpretation of the title role gave me the goose bumps. His words:  “Wie sagst du, Wofram? Bist du denn nicht mein Feind?” (sung with emphasis on ‘mein’ and ‘Feind’ and with a childish question mark at the end of the phrase) caused me to burst into tears.

Later, I learned to appreciate the music for itself and to this day, Tannhäuser is not only a very beloved Wagner opera, but also one of my absolute favourites.

I still consider this recording, conducted very sensually by Giueseppe Sinopoli, to be one of the best ever. Also because all the roles (Cheryl Studer as Elisabeth and Agnes Baltsa as Venus, such wealth!) are excellently cast. At the time, in the eighties and early nineties, this was not necessarily a given.


Fliegende Hollander Sinopoli
For the 1998 recording of Der Fliegende Holländer (DG 4377782), Domingo added the role of Erik to his repertoire. His Erik is attractive and charming, he sings the role not only with great commitment but also very idiomatically.

This recording is particularly dear to me, not only because of Domingo, but also because of Cheryl Studer, at the time perhaps the most beautiful Senta imaginable. Her delightful lyrical soprano with its easy and sensual height is perfect for the role.

The Holländer is sung by Bernd Weikl. A little past his prime, but the role suits him and Peter Seiffert is wonderful as Der Steuerman.


domingo lohengrin-solti
Despite all the swans, Lohengrins do not usually fall out of the sky. Before officially recording the role in 1985 (Decca 4210532), Domingo had been preparing for it for almost twenty years. And the result was worth it.

At the time, the Puritans were all up in arms: a Germanic hero performed by a Spanish bel canto singer, and with an accent too – no, that was unacceptable. I can still vividly remember the reviews from those days, written by the renowned music critics (no, I’m not going to mention any names). They not only cried shame, but also knew for sure that his career was about to end, because this was destroying his voice. Well…

Today, almost 40 years later, we know better.  Not only is his voice undamaged, but nowadays it is readily admitted that this was a formidable presentation, by one of the best tenors of the last century. His Lohengrin is not only heroic, but loving and warm-blooded, less god, more of a man.

Jessye Norman was the perfect Elsa in those days: young and innocent. And when you know that the conductor is called Solti…. Simply wonderful!


domingo lohengrin hamburg

Domingo’s baptism of fire in the role of Lohengrin was in Hamburg in 1968. He was then 27 (!) years old. It was not only his first Wagner, it was also the very first time he sang an opera in German, a language he did not yet master.

Fragments of the performance have been preserved (e.g. Melodram MEL 26510). His voice sounds like a bell, with a lot of bronze and a golden shine. The high notes are high and sung in full. Where can you still experience a Lohengrin like this? So beautiful that it makes you want to cry.

His Elsa was Arlene Saunders, at that time a much-loved prima donna in Hamburg, today she is totally forgotten. How unjust! Saunders was not only an amazingly good singer, she was also a beautiful woman and an exemplary actress.

Below Placido Domingo and Arlene Saunders in ‘Das süße Lied…Wie hehr erkenn’ ich’:


domingo parsifal-0028947760067

In 2006, Domingo sang his last Parsifal (officially at least). It was recorded live in Vienna by Deutsche Grammophon (DG 4776006). Although he is audibly not a spring chicken anymore, he still manages to be utterly convincing, which is actually also true of Waltraud Meier’s Kundry.

Franz-Josef Selig is a fantastic Gurnemanz. His warm bass with its splendid legato seems created for all the long monologues. Falk Struckmann also is a splendid Amfortas.

It has been said of the conductor Christian Thielemann that he is a worthy successor to Furtwängler, and there is a lot of truth in that. He makes no secret of his predilection for the great German composers and his interpretations of them are rightly praised.

He also shares his capriciousness and wilfulness with his illustrious predecessor. His interpretations are therefore often controversial. I like that, because it forces the listener to listen attentively. In Parsifal, he emphasises the human aspect of the work rather than its mysticism. The truly brilliant orchestra follows closely behind.

domingo parsifal heilie graal
In 1998 Tony Palmer made a very fascinating film titled Parsifal – The Search for the Grail (Arthaus 100610). Domingo is our host and he explains not only the work, but he also tells us the history of the Holy Grail.

It is a very fascinating and enjoyable quest, illustrated by excerpts from Indiana Jones and Monty Python, among others, and from a performance in the Mariinski Theatre, with, alongside Domingo, Violeta Urmana as Kundry and Matti Salminen as Gurnemanz. Gergiev conducts.



In the winter of 2004/2005 the moment had finally come: the crowning glory of Domingo’s long career. Tristan had been on his wish list for a long time and twice it had almost come true (Bayreuth and Vienna), but in the end he dared not go through with it. But he seized the opportunity to record it with both hands.

EMI (now Warner Classics 5099996686423) immediately made a true feast of it and went all out – it is said that the project cost almost a million euros!

The result is overwhelming. Nina Stemme sings a young and vulnerable Isolde and René Pape is one of the best Markes I have ever heard. His monologue ‘Tatest du’s wirklich’ is among the most beautiful and moving moments of the opera.

Domingo is a Tristan to fall in love with. He is a man, a human being of flesh and blood, if necessary heroic and strong, but also weak and fragile. He is loyal, but mostly in love, until, finally, death comes for him.

His interpretation bears little resemblance to that of other great Tristans in history. That is not surprising: he is not a heroic tenor. But singing is what matters most to me, and does he sing! Peter Alward (EMI’s outgoing A&R producer and the mastermind behind the recording) in an interview once said, that he would not be surprised if a whole future generation of Wagner tenors committed mass harakiri after listening to Domingo in the role.


domingo siegmund                                             Domingo als Siegmund in Washington in 2007.

By now, Domingo pretty much identifies himself with Siegmund (Die Walküre), and it was also his most frequently performed Wagner role. I heard him sing it in London, at the Proms, an experience never to be forgotten.

There are plenty of recordings in circulation, official and less official, so I assume you will have at least one of them. If you are interested, that is.

fragment of his debut in the role (Vienna 1992) with Waltraud Meier as Sieglinde:


domingo ring scenes

No. He has never tried Siegfried, at least not on the stage, and it is very unlikely that he will do so in the future, but with Domingo you never know. After all he surprises us every year with at least one new role, no small feat when you turn 80!

On a CD with the title Scenes from the Ring (once EMI 5572422, probably not available anymore) he sings all the great music from both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung and he is doing it great. Just listen to ‘Nothung’ or ‘Dass mein Vater nicht ist’, not to mention ‘Brünnhilde! Heilige Braut!’. Can it get any more impressive? What a pleasure to hear him in this role.

Wolf-Ferrari eert Goldoni in La vedova scaltra  

Tekst: Peter Franken

In 2007 herdacht men in La Fenice het 300e geboortejaar van Carlo Goldoni met een reeks uitvoeringen van Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s opera La vedova scaltra.

De titel betekent zoveel als ‘De gewiekste weduwe’ en het libretto is losjes gebaseerd op een van Goldoni’s toneelstukken. Welke doet er nauwelijks toe, ze verlopen vrijwel allemaal volgens hetzelfde stramien.

Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) componeerde een reeks opera’s die doen denken aan wat in Duitsland een Spieloper wordt genoemd, maar dan zonder gesproken dialogen. Hoewel hij als operacomponist carrière maakte in een periode dat het Verismo opgeld deed, bleef Wolf-Ferrari aanvankelijk hangen in de keuze voor meer klassieke onderwerpen. Pas met Il segreto di Susanna uit 1909 betreedt de componist zijn eigen leefwereld.

Des te opmerkelijker is zijn keuze voor Goldoni als inspirator voor het uit 1930 daterende La vedova scaltra. Het kan zijn dat dit (mede) ingegeven werd door de wens in fascistisch Italië vooral geen golfjes in de culturele vijver te willen maken. Gewoon op zeker spelen en dat maakt zo’n Venetiaans verhaaltje natuurlijk tot een goede keuze.

Een rijke weduwe wordt aanbeden door vier gefortuneerde heren, afkomstig uit Engeland, Spanje, Frankrijk en Italië. Laatst genoemde trekt uiteraard aan het langste eind, waarom een buitenlander trouwen als je dicht bij huis kunt blijven? We zijn getuige van de standaard verwikkelingen: list en bedrog, verwisselingen, ruzies en overdreven gespeeld komisch gedoe.

Die vier nationaliteiten geven aanleiding tot gebruik van herkenbare clichés waarbij vooral de omlijsting van de Spaanse grande, Don Alvaro di Castiglia, het leukste uit de verf komt.

Het doet een beetje denken aan Il viaggio a Reims, ook een inhoudelijk niemendalletje met hoofdpersonen uit verschillende landen, dat het vooral moet hebben van de muziek. En het vele gepraat in La vedova zien we terug in Strauss’ Capriccio al heeft de inhoud daar wel iets meer betekenis.

Muzikaal is de opera een ratjetoe, sommige scènes doen sterk denken aan de periode waarin Goldoni het verhaal plaatste, zo rond 1780 vermoed ik. Op andere momenten is het puur belcanto en dan weer klinken er plotseling flarden muziek die eerder doen denken aan het werk van illustere tijdgenoten van Wolf-Ferrari. Al met al kan de muziek mij wel een tijdje blijven boeien, bij het verhaal haak ik echter al snel af. Dat men juist dit werk in 2007 heeft geprogrammeerd zal toch vooral van doen hebben gehad met de wens de plaatselijke coryfee Goldoni te eren. Zijn standbeeld staat in deze productie prominent midden op een pleintje waar het tweede deel van de opera zich afspeelt.

De kostuums zijn ‘ancien régime’ voor de dames en bij de heren vooral op het uitlichten van nationale clichés gericht. Zo komt de Spaanse entourage van Don Alvaro op als een soort stierenvechtersfestival, met bijpassende muziek. Hier klinkt Wolf-Ferrari als Zarzuela componist.

De hoofdrollen zijn uitstekend bezet. De gewiekste weduwe Rosaura die net haar stokoude man – hij was wel 70, confronterende mededeling – heeft begraven en nu rustig een paar maanden de tijd neemt om een vervanger uit te zoeken, wordt uitstekend vertolkt door de Noorse sopraan Anne-Liese Sollied. In de tweede akte schittert ze in een solostuk getiteld ‘Nella notturna selva’ over twee geliefden die van elkaar zijn gescheiden, Daphne en Amaryllis. Ze staat zeer lang op het toneel en toont permanent een hoog niveau, zeer goed optreden.

Haar sidekick is de bediende Marionette, een Française die zich erop beroept de dochter te zijn van de meid van de voedster van de koning. Three handshakes away from he throne so to speak. Ze heeft dan ook de nodige kapsones maar flirt graag met de boodschappers die de vier heren op haar patrones afsturen. Deze komische maar vocaal eveneens veel eisende rol is in goede handen bij de Italiaanse sopraan Elena Rossi.

De vier heren worden vertolkt door de bas Maurizio Muraro als Milord Runebif, de tenor Emanuel d’Aguanno als Monsieur Le Bleau, de tenor Mark Milhofer als Il Conte di Bosco Nero en de bas Ricardo Zanellatto als Don Alvaro di Castiglia. De bariton Alex Esposito zorgt voor een extra komische noot als de go-between Arlecchino, zonder wiens personage het natuurlijk geen echte Goldoni zou zijn.

Koor en orkest van La Fenice staan onder leiding van Karl Martin (Naxos 2110234-35)

Plácido Domingo and his French roles

Domingo jose

Bizet: Carmen

Domingo carmen-wiener-staatsoper-kleiber

I never used to like opera. I loved violin concerts and piano solo works, very early on I learned to appreciate chamber music and when I got a bit older, songs also came my way. But opera? The mere idea that an old, fat lady would try to portray a young girl dying of TB, gave me the giggles. Talk about prejudice!

Until one memorable evening in 1982, when I turned on the TV to watch Carmen. I only did it to please my then boyfriend and then it happened! From that night on, the world was forever changed and my life gained a great love.

For years I cherished this Carmen, although I only had a badly copied but very expensive mc (does anyone remember what it was?). It was later released on various ‘pirate labels’ and finally on DVD (Arthaus Musik 109096).

Many years and a lot of experience have passed, but I still find the recording irresistible. First of all because of Domingo. Listen to his ‘La fleur que tu m’avais jetée’: if that doesn’t give you goose bumps, I don’t know what will. And also because of Carlos Kleiber, a conductor, the likes of whom do not exist anymore these days.

Domingo Camen berganza

The most beautiful CD recording, at least to me, is the one with Teresa Berganza under Claudio Abbado (DG 4196362). It was recorded in the studio in 1978, but only after a series of live performances, and it is all the better for that! Ileana Cotrubas (Micaela) and Sherrill Milnes (Escamillo) complete the excellent cast.
Two years earlier, Domingo also recorded the opera in the studio (Decca 4144892), but I am less enthusiastic about it. Solti conducts superbly and Tatiana Troyanos as Carmen is one in a thousand, perhaps she is even better than Berganza, but José van Dam is no Escamillo and the whole lacks the atmosphere of the theater.


Domingo Camen Resnik

The very first recording I know, dates from 1967. It is from the Teatro Municipal de Santiago and is conducted by Anton Guadagna (Legato LCD 194-2). Regina Resnik is an excellent Carmen, but what makes the recording truly memorable is the Escamillo of Ramon Vinay, once a Don José of note himself.

Domingo Carmen Verrett
Also interesting is the recording from Covent Garden, 1973 (Arkadia MP 498-3). Mainly because of Shirley Verrett in the leading role and the very young Kiri te Kanawa as Micaela.

Massenet: Werther

Domingo Werther

Werther was one of the young Domingo’s favourite roles. Unfortunately, little of it has been documented. On 18 December 1977, the opera was recorded by the Bayerische Rundfunk in Munich. This recording has been released on CD (Orfeo C 464 982).
Charlotte was sung by Brigitte Fassbaender, not really a singer one would associate with the role… Well! Allow yourself to be surprised, because what happens here, happens very rarely: drama, passion, love, despair… She and Domingo really bounce from your player.
An excerpt:

Domingo Werther Chailly
A studio recording of the opera was made in 1979, under Riccardo Chailly, with a totally miscast Elena Obraztsova as Charlotte. It is quite exciting, but lacks the necessary poetry.

Massenet: Manon

Domingo Manon

Yes, Manon was once part of Domingo’s repertoire. The only recording I know is on Melodram (MEL 27054). It was recorded live at the New York City Opera on 20 February 1969. Manon is sung by the truly irresistible Beverly Sills. Julius Rudel conducts.

Massenet: Le Cid

Domingo Le Cid

An oddity, certainly, but such a beautiful oddity! Sony (7454942 – check the number to be sure, they change so quickly!) recorded the concert performance in New York, 1989, live. Eve Queler conducts and Grace Bumbry shines as Chimene.

Gounod: Faust

Domingo Faust Freni
Fortunately there is a good studio recording of Domingo’s Faust. It was recorded in 1979 by EMI (now Warner) and it is easily one of the best recordings of the work. The orchestra of the Paris Opera is conducted by Georges Prêtre, one of the best conductors of French repertoire.

The cast is finger-licking gorgeous: Mirella Freni is a fragile and sensual Marguerite and Nicolai Ghiaurov a very impressive Méphistophélès. In the small role of Valentin we hear none other than Thomas Allen.

Saint-Saëns: Samson et Dalila

Domingo Samson Warner

EMI (now Warner) recorded the opera in Paris in 1991. The conductor was Myung-Whun Chung and there is the rub: he does not really know the opera. But he was not the only culprit! Someone came up with the unfortunate idea of having Dalila sung by Waltraud Meier. Forget it.

Domingo Samson Borodina

The other studio recording, this time on DVD (DG 0730599), also has a Dalila that just doesn’t work for me: Olga Borodina. It was recorded at the Metropolitan Opera in 1998. I was there and didn’t like it – and I still don’t like it.

Domingo Samson Verrett

But, I’ll go for the San Francisco recording every time! It was directed by Nicolas Joel and Dalila was sung by the really sexy Shirley Verrett (Arthaus Video 100 202)

Offenbach: Les Contes d’Hoffmann

Hoffmann was one of Domingo’s greatest roles. As far as I am concerned, no other singer even comes close to him.

If you want the opera on CD, the Decca recording conducted by Richard Bonynge, with Dame Joan Sutherland in all three female roles (4173832) is highly recommended.

John Adams en zijn post-style-style

Merkwaardige man, die Adams, maar componeren kan hij als geen ander. Hij is één van de meest succesvolle en het vaakst uitgevoerde hedendaagse componisten en dat is niet zonder reden: zijn muziek is zeer toegankelijk en prettig in het oor liggend, zonder dat het meteen aan klanken tapijt of muzak doet denken.

Zijn inspiratie haalt Adams uit “de landschappen en hun relatie met de menselijke psyche” (zijn eigen woorden!) en beschouwt zijn muziek als “etnisch, maar dan beïnvloed door jazz en pop”.  Zijn stijl noemt hij zelf ‘post-style-style’ en zegt dat zijn meeste composities een celebratie zijn van de Amerikaanse cultuur.

Hij houdt van Amerika en haar dichters. Zijn (volgens mij) mooiste werk, The Wound dresser, heeft hij bij een gedicht van Walt Whitman gecomponeerd.

‘Hail Bop’, de documentaire van Tony Palmen over John Adams is mooi, spannend en informatief. Er zijn veel muziek- en operafragmenten, er zijn interessante interviews, en prachtige beelden van het door Adams zo geliefde Amerikaanse landschap.

Moeite heb ik alleen met de fragmenten van de verfilmde versie van ‘Death of Klinghoffer’. Ik heb de opera nooit als antisemitisch of zelfs anti-Israëlisch ervaren, maar de overrealistiche beelden van de met stenen gooiende Palestijnse kinderen en schietende Israëlische soldaten vind ik te veel van het goede en niet ter zake doend: de opera werd gecomponeerd in 1991, bijna tien jaar voor de uitbarsting van de tweede Intifada. Maar goed, daar hoeft u het niet met mij eens te zijn (Warner Music Vision 50-51011-4857-2-5)

Placido Domingo and Verdi

Ernani is an important opera to a Domingo collector. Domingo made his debut with it at La Scala on 7 December 1969. It was also the only opera he sang in Amsterdam, on 15 January 1972. Concertante, of course (yes, during the Matinee, where else?). Unfortunately, no complete recording exists, so we have to make do with fragments only (Bella Voce BV 107.004). Felicia Weathers, who sang the role of Elvira, had a terrible head cold and neither Piero Francia nor Agostino Ferrin are names to remember, but it remains an important document.
At La Scala, besides Domingo, there were two other greats of bygone days: Raina Kabaivanska and Nicolai Ghiaurov. Unfortunately, Cappuccilli had to cancel due to illness, but his replacement, Carlo Meliciani, really gives his best. Add to this the truly sublime direction of Antonino Votto and you know that you can expect a special ‘evening’ of opera.

Radames was among Domingo’s favourite roles. No wonder. Here he could really ‘show it all’, because the hero is very complex. He is a ‘macho with a lot of muscles’ and a vulnerable boy at the same time, and he is torn between duty and passion. Unfortunately, the two are not compatible. To sing Radames well you need not only a cannon of a voice but also an intellectual ability. And he has both.

Domingo verdi Aida
He made his debut with Aida in 1968 in Hamburg and he has since sung the opera thousands of times. There are many recordings on the market, both studio and live. I would like to dwell on a recording that will not evoke an ‘aha’ moment for most of you – also because at first glance the cast is not idiomatically perfect.

The fact that Anna Tomowa-Sintow was one of Karajan’s favourite singers had its advantages and disadvantages. She was a welcome guest in Salzburg and her name appears on many recordings conducted by the maestro. But it also meant that she was primarily rated as a Mozart and Strauss singer, while she had so much more to offer.
Her Desdemona and Amelia were legendary and after her Munich Aida, Leonie Rysanek praised her performance for its pure beauty.

Fassbaender is really surprising and particularly convincing as Amneris. Just listen to what she does with the single word ‘pace’ at the end of the opera. The opera was recorded by Bayeriche Rundfunk on 22 March 1979 and released on Orfeo (C583 022).

Domingo Verdi Arroyo

Also noteworthy is the recording from Munich 1972, with a now almost forgotten Verdi singer, Martina Arroyo. As Amneris, we hear Fiorenza Cossotto and Cappuccilli and Ghiaurov complete the excellent cast conducted by Claudio Abbado.



The recording from Vienna 1973 (Bela Voce BLV 107.209), under Riccardo Muti, is also of particular interest. In the leading role we meet Gwyneth Jones and Amneris is sung by an exceptional mezzo: Viorica Cortez.


Verdi: Aida / Leontyne Price; Placido Domingo; Sherrill Milnes; Grace  Bumbry; Rugg - HBDirect Genres
Of Domingo’s studio recordings the 1970 RCA (now Sony)release, is probably the best. How could it be otherwise, when you know that the conductor is Erich Leinsdorf and the other roles are sung by Leontyne Price, Sherrill Milnes, Grace Bumbry and Ruggero Raimondi. The whole thing almost pops out of your speakers.


Il Trovatore was the very first opera Placido Domingo, then 28 years old (!), recorded in the studio in 1970. Fiorenza Cossotto stars as Azucena, but the recording is really indispensable because of one of the most riveting Lunas ever: Sherrill Milnes .

Below: Price, Domingo and  Milnes in ‘E deggio e posso crederlo?’


Il trovatore was one of Von Karajan’s favorite operas. In 1962 he directed a series of performances in Salzburg, those were taken over by Vienna in 1978 and broadcast on television.

Domingo was a last minute replacement for Franco Bonisolli, who had left the production in a fit of temper.  Domingo’s delightful, radiant topnotes in ‘Ah si, ben mio’ earned him an ovation that lasted for many minutes.

Cossotto’s Azucena is now legendary: like no other singer she put her mark on the role (Arthouse Music 107117).

Below:  Domingo, Kabaivanska, Cappuccilli en Cossotto in ‘Prima che d’ altri vivere’


Ballo Abbado Schenk ROH

The Royal Opera House production released by Opus Arte (OA 1236D) dates from early 1975. The sound is a little dull, but you will forget that as soon as you hear the beautiful voices of the singers.

Katia Ricciarelli is one of the most moving Amelias I know. The sound that she produces is perhaps not really ‘Verdian’, and perhaps her voice is a little too light, (she has sadly destroyed her voice by singing this type of role), but the pianissimi that she spins deserve a prize for sheer beauty, and her fragility is palpable.

The kindly anxious, loving, but also playful tenor of the young Placido Domingo fits the role of Gustavo like a glove. Piero Cappuccilli is an excellent Renato and Reri Grist an Oscar such as you do not often hear them anymore. Her performance alone is worth buying the DVD.

Claudio Abbado (how young he was then!) conducts lightly and keeps the tempi sparkling, resulting in an effervescent orchestral sound.

The direction by Otto Schenk is effective. Conventional and yet surprising. And like no other, he exposes the comic aspects of the opera.

Trailer of the production:

Ballo Solti Schelsinger

Fifteen years later, Domingo is already a seasoned Gustavo. His king is now more mature, more serious too… But although he says he doesn’t believe Ulrica’s predictions, you can still see something like terror in his eyes. It could so easily be true…
This production includes also a more mature Amelia. Now she is not a dreamy girl, but a woman with intense desires. Josephine Barstow certainly lives up to this interpretation. She is a torn Amelia, full of love, sorrow, pain and tears. In ‘Ecco l’orrido campo’, her fear is physically palpable and in ‘Morro’ you think you may die with her. Leo Nucci shines as Renato and Sumi Yo is a light, bouncy Oscar.

The direction lies in the hands of the famous film director John Schlesinger. The end result is devastating: overwhelming, true-to-life sets, beautiful costumes and dazzling mass scenes. The picturesque image is occasionally reminiscent of enormous tableaux-vivants, and the direction of the characters is- as you would expect from a renowned director – phenomenal.
At the opera’s finale, when the dying king gathers his last strength and, gasping for breath, bids farewell to his beloved, his subjects and the fatherland, no one can suspect that with his last ‘addio’ an entire era is also coming to an end.
It would be Herbert von Karajan’s last production in Salzburg. He died just before the premiere in 1989 and was replaced by Solti, who also conducted the revival of the opera in 1990 (Arthaus Musik 109105).

Tosca met allemaal vervangers en vervangers van vervangers was toch een groot succes

Dat de baan van een casting director geen sinecure is, ja, dat weten wij wel. Maar niemand kan zich voorstellen hoe rampzalig en stressy het soms is. Het gebeurt vaker dat de zangers afzeggen, maar dat alle hoofdrol vertolkers het laten afweten, nee, dat komt (gelukkig) niet zo vaak voor. Het overkwam Mauricio Fernandez, de casting director van Amsterdamse ZaterdagMatinee bij de concertante uitvoering van Tosca op 19 mei 2012

Eerst zegde Cavaradossi af. Toen Angelotti. En toen werden we op een echte soapopera getrakteerd want maar liefst vier (VIER!) Scarpia’s hebben laten afweten; de laatste nog maar een dag voor de voorstelling. Maar het noodlot was nog niet afgewend: op de avond vóór dé dag werd Tosca ziek.

De letterlijk ‘last minute’ vervangster, de Roemeense Cellia Costea kwam rond 11 uur die ochtend in Amsterdam aan en vers van het vliegtuig kreeg ze haar eerste (en enige) repetitie met het orkest.
Het resultaat was adembenemend goed. Costea beschikt over een mooie, donkere sopraan met soepele hoge noten. Indrukwekkend dramatisch in de tweede acte en net zo indrukwekkend lyrisch in haar liefdesduetten. Niet alleen kende ze de rol uit haar hoofd, zij wist het ook te acteren. Brava!!

Hieronder: Cellia Costea zingt ‘Vissi d’Arte’ bij de Griekse Nationale Opera in 2015

            Carlos Almaguer

De vijfde Scarpia, Carlos Almaguer vond ik niet zo sterk, soms had ik de indruk dat hij zichzelf overschreeuwde, maar gezien de omstandigheden was hij meer dan voldoende.

Giorgio Berrugi zong een ouderwets Italiaanse Cavaradossi, alle noten waren er en er ontbrak hem ook niet aan passie.

Hieronder Giorgio Berrugi zingt ‘E lucevan le stelle’ in opera van  Marseille

Tomislav Lučič was een voortreffelijke Angelotti en Luca Casalin een zeer overtuigende Spoletta.

                Pinchas Steinberg

Het was de eerste keer dat ik Pinchas Steinberg live hoorde en ik moet bekennen dat ik zowat van mijn stoel viel van bewondering. Hij leidde het Radio Filharmonisch Orkest met de vaste hand, legde de accenten op de juiste plekken en – wellicht allerbelangrijkste, zeker tijdens de uitvoering met allemaal invallers – hij volgde de zangers. Daar werd ik werkelijk stil van.

Aida kan ook ook zonder paarden en olifanten buitengewoon imposant zijn

   Nicolas Joel © Julien Benhamou / OnP

Nicolas Joel (6 februari 1953–18 juni 2020), regisseur van deze bijzonder fraaie Aida uit Zürich, stond in 2009 uitgebreid in het nieuws toen bekend werd dat hij, na het vertrek van Mortier, de baas van de Bastille ging worden. Het nieuws werd door de opera minnend publiek toegejuicht: Joels producties werden bijna altijd jubelend ontvangen.

Ook de in 2006 opgenomen Aida ziet er werkelijk schitterend uit. In zijn regie speelt het verhaal zich nog steeds in Egypte af, maar dan eeuwen later, in de late negentiende eeuw, het koloniale tijdperk. De verhoudingen tussen de heersers en de lokale bevolking zijn koel maar correct, mits ze het zich niet in hun hoofd halen om gelijkheid te eisen. Of een liefdesrelatie met een ‘meerdere’ te beginnen.

Het klopt allemaal wel, en levert niet alleen een spannend avondje opera op, maar ook bijzonder fraaie plaatjes (enscenering Ezio Frigerio), die heel veel aan de films van James Ivory doen denken. Bovendien bewijst hij dat het ook zonder paarden en olifanten mogelijk is om en zeer indrukwekkende en imposante triomfscène te ensceneren.

De mannelijke zangers zijn helaas, om het aardig uit te drukken, een beetje onevenwichtig maar beide vrouwen leveren schitterende prestaties op. Luciana D’Intino is een zeer opwindende Amneris en Nina Stemme’s lyrische, maar met een enorme kracht gezongen Aida herinnert me af en toe aan Birgit Nilsson.

Nina Stemme, Salvatore Licitra, Luciana D’Intino, Juan Pons
Zurich Opera Orchestra olv Adam Fischer
BelAir classiques BAC022 (2dvd’s)

Onweerstaanbare Mireille van Gounod

Gounods Roméo et Juliette: Nicolas Joel in Memoriam (6 februari 1953 – 18 juni 2020)

An absolutely perfect recording of Walter Braunfels‘ Verkündigung

Religion, there is nothing wrong with it. Provided that it is well- dosed, it can be a source of a lot of happiness (and salvation). People can draw hope from it and the pure belief in miracles may also cause miracles. Although it is not very tangible.

verkun-claudel                                                Paul Claudel

The French poet and playwright Paul Claudel (1868 – 1955) was a deeply religious man and almost all of his works were inspired by his Catholic faith. The same is true of ‘The message to Mary’, on which the Verkündigung by Braunfels is based

Violaine is engaged to Jacobëus but she rejects him: by her act of charity (out of pity she kissed a man with leprosy) she herself becomes infected. Jakobëus marries Violaine’s sister Mara and, when their child dies after birth, Violaine miraculously brings it back to life. This mystical story full of love, tragedy and sacrifice smells strongly of incense and is not averse to primary sentiments.

Thus also Walter Braunfels’ score: narrative and dark, because even the miracles leave little to hope for. An unadulterated mystery play, with a lot of attention to martyrdom, but larded with the most beautiful notes that seem to have descended straight from heaven.

verkund-braunfels                                                                     Walter Braunfels

Verkündigung was my first introduction to the composer Braunfels. In 1994 the work was released by EMI (now Warner). A publication that has shaken my worldview. Because I didn’t get it: how could such an unadulterated masterpiece remain unknown for so long? Why was it never performed? Since then Braunfels (together with Korngold, Zemlinsky and Schreker) is at the top of my list of my beloved composers.

That EMI recording, including John Bröcheler as Jakobëus, is certainly fantastic, but the new edition by BR Klassiek proves that it can even be bettered!

This performance, directed by Ulf Schirmer, was recorded live in Munich in 2014. Juliane Banse (Violaine) is totally absorbed in her role. She sings softly, swaying and lovingly. Perfect goodness. Janina Baechle is a good Mara and Hanna Schwarz and Robert Holl shine as the parents.

Adrian Eröd is a much better Jakobëus than Bröcheler: his voice is lighter and higher, more loving also, which gives more clarity to his character.

Walter Braunfels
Robert Holl, Hanna Schwarz, Julian Banse, Janina Baechle, Adrian Eröd, Matthias Klink, Mauro Peter e.a.
BR Klassik 900311