The Divine Emma /Božská Ema …


Emílie Pavlína Věnceslava Kittlová (February 26, 1878 – January 28, 1930) or, as the world knows her: Emmy Destinn. She is considered to be one of the greatest sopranos of the first twenty years of the twentieth century. She celebrated triumphs in Berlin, Paris, London and New York, she performed with Enrico Caruso, who had once proposed to her, and together they sang the world premiere of La Fanciulla del West, an opera that Puccini had composed with her voice in mind.

Emmmy Fanciulla

In her homeland, Bohemia, she was mainly loved for her patriotism, which even earned her a three-year house arrest during the First World War. The Czech documentary about her life is both interesting and irritating.

Emmy Dinh

Interesting because it recounts many unknown facts about her life and it provides us with beautiful images, photos and film clips and special acoustic recordings (including a real rarity: the Czech national anthem, sung in Czech together with her, then, lover, the Algerian baritone, Dinh Gilly):

Irritating, because it is put together as a very old-fashioned, extremely sentimental filmic portrait, full of seagulls flying overhead, windblown cornfields, a recurring hourglass and larded with staged fictional images. And all that to the sounds of Chopin’s Nocturne.

But the worst thing is that they had Destinn’s voice replaced with that of Gabriela Beňačková! So a great singer is not even allowed on- screen, because the leading part is – of course – intended for a beautiful young lady.

And here the _real_ Emmy:

The Greatest Czech Soprano
Supraphon, SU7006-9

Schönberg’s  ‘Gurre – Lieder’


For me Gurre-Lieder is one of the most beautiful works ever composed. From the moment the music gently begins to swell, I am in heaven. The music, like a Dybbuk, takes hold of me completely and there is no escape possible.

Not that I mind. Feeling completely immersed in something, identifying with something, will give you a surreal feeling of being set afloat. A bit scary, yes, but also a bit like an initiation. Love, murder, an immense sadness that drives you mad, the fight against God, the power of nature: everything is there and it is fully integrated into the music.

The famous Viennese critic Julius Korngold called the work “a flowering cactus”. A beautiful metaphor.

In ‘Sehnt die Sonne’, the last piece of the cantata, Schönberg achieves something truly unprecedented, although he does not (yet) know it himself: he is building a bridge between past and present. Think of the finale of Iris by Mascagni. And think of Schönberg’s own masterpiece, A Survivor from Warsaw, composed after the war.

Below, ‘Sehnt die Sonne’ in the performance of the (not discussed here) Berliner Philharmoniker olv Simon Rattle:

The premiere, on February 23, 1913, in Vienna, was conducted by Franz Schreker, with 757 musicians participating. The Dutch premiere, conducted by Schönberg himself, took place in March 1921. The idea of performing the work scenically did come up; apparently there were plans for it as early as 1927, but Schönberg has always resisted the idea.

It’s a cliché, I know, but you must hear the Gurre-Lieder live at least once in your life. No recording, no matter how great, can match the overwhelming power of a live concert.


Gurre Stokowski

The very first commercial recording, as far as I know, is from 1932. None other than Leopold Stokowski conducted the American premiere of the work on April 8 that year. It was recorded by RCA and with a bit of a search you may be able to find it (though I did not succeed).

In 1961, Stokowski took the Gurre-Lieder to Edinburgh, where it caused a sensation. The performance was recorded by radio and later released on Guild (GHCD 2388/89). His affinity with the work is clearly audible, it is as if it were his love child: his approach is caressing, stroking, cuddling, but with justified outbursts of anger when the child wants to be unruly. I think that is wonderful, really wonderful.

Gré Brouwenstein is a good Tove. Nice voice, although I find her a bit distant at times. James McCracken is a bit of a heavy Waldemar, but he never degenerates into roaring, something that later marred many of his recordings. Personally, I prefer a voice that is more agile, but Stokowski’s lyrical approach also transfers to his soloists, including McCracken.

The concert begins with the announcement of the BBC presenter, after which ‘God save the Queen’ is given. Quite nice and adding to the atmosphere.
Below the Prelude, followed by Waldemar’s first song (James McCracken):


Gurre Ozawa

In 1979, Mc Cracken was long past his prime. A pity, because it is the only blemish on an otherwise splendid performance by Seiji Ozawa (Philips 4125112).

The young Jessye Norman could do anything she wanted with her voice, and her dark soprano with its enormous width is very sensual. A little dominant, it is true, not really an innocent lady, but I like it.

Jessye Norman sings ‘Du sendest mir einen Liebesblick’ :

Tatjana Troyanos is a very heartfelt Waldtaube. The whole was recorded live at the Boston Symphony Hall.


Gurre Chailly
I find the rendition by Riccardo Chailly (Decca 4737282) somewhat disappointing. It is a ‘studio’ recording (recorded in 1985 in Jesus-Christus-Kirche in Berlin), but the sound does not really come across. I also find Chailly a bit noisy, with few nuances.

Siegfried Jerusalem just sounds Wagnerian, and that is, in this case, not a compliment. Also Susan Dunn (Tove), at the time a Chailly protégé, is not really adequate, sometimes it seems as if she does not know what she is singing. But then Brigitte Fassbaender (Waldtaube) comes along and any doubts are gone!


In 2009, Esa-Pekka Salonen (SIGCD173) caused a sensation with his performance at the Royal Festival Hall in London. And rightly so. The performance is really sizzling and the soloists, with foremost Soile Isokoski as the most beautiful Tove ever, are fantastic.

Stig Andersen is certainly a good Waldemar and Monica Groop a heartbreaking Waldtaube. Unfortunately, the recording is abominable. There is no sound balance whatsoever, you have to adjust your volume buttons all the time. I do not have a SACD player, but my speakers could not cope with it. A pity.


gurre stenz

The performance recorded in June 2014 under Markus Steinz for Hyperion (CDA68081/2), is in my opinion among the best available. The Gürzenich-Orchester Köln evidently feels like a fish in water in the late Romantic idiom and – reinforced by the six different choirs – they do not shy away from any means of getting through to the listener and his heart. The “Zemlinsky years” of James Conlon are apparently in their genes forever…..

The, in itself, warm mezzo of Claudia Mahnke (Waldtaube) unfortunately has some sharp edges. For me, I would have liked it to be a bit more lyrical – less Wagner and more Zemlinsky, so to speak – but her performance is more than impressive. A real voice actress.

The Dutch soprano Barbara Haveman is a very sensual Tove, but best of all is Brandon Jovanovich. As Waldemar, he is pushing his limits, but he never oversteps them. Very masculine and at the same time very fragile. For me, his performance is more than sensational.

The baritone Johannes Martin Kränzle is a fantastic speaker. His presentation is devoid of any mannerisms, something many performers of this role are guilty of (Sunnyi Melles in Amsterdam!).


Gurre de leeuw

Before I reveal my absolute favourite (we all like a bit of suspence, don’t we?), a word about Reinbert de Leeuw’s performance, recorded by KRO on March, 26, 2011 in a sold-out Dr Anton Philipszaal in The Hague. The orchestra was “halved”, there were “only” 356 musicians. I did not really like the soloists , but it is still a homegrown document. The Internet offers enough (pirate) recordings. Otherwise, just search for it on youtube.

Reinbert de Leeuw speaks about the Gurre-lieder:



René Leibowitz. Have you ever heard of him? In the 1950s, he was one of the best conductors, the ones who put their own stamp on everything they undertook. In 1953, he conducted “Gurre-lieder” in Paris. When I received the CD (Preiser 90575), I thought: interesting, let it come… Well… a few hours later I knew: better, more beautiful, more moving than this does not exist, at least not for me. With Leibowitz you can even hear the flapping of the dove’s wings!

Richard Lewis sings a Waldemar as I have always wanted to hear him: sensitive and delicate. Ethel Semser (Tove) was well acquainted with Schoenberg’s oeuvre; she had already recorded his Pierrot Lunaire.

Nell Tangemann (Waldtaube) remains a great unknown, despite the roles she has created: Mother Goose, for example. Or Dinah, in the world premiere of Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti”. Ned Rorem has also composed a few things for her. Unfortunately, no recordings of this exist, so you can consider the Gurre-lieder as a document and a tribute to the unknown mezzo-soprano who honestly deserved better.
An absolute must.

A curiosity: Schoenberg conducting his ‘Lied der Waldtaube’, here sung by Rose Bampton. The recording dates from 1934:

De ‘Ausgrabungen van Kirsten Harms’: Marie Victoire in 2009

Tekst: Peter Franken

Kirsten Harms, Intendantin der Deutschen Oper Berlin 2004–2011, Foto: Bernd Uhlig

In de tijd dat Kirsten Harms intendant was van de Deutsche Oper Berlin stond er een kleine reeks ‘revolutie-opera’s’ op het programma te weten Andrea Chénier, Les dialogues des  Carmélites, Germania en Marie Victoire. De laatste twee worden gerekend tot Harms’ Ausgrabungen van vergeten werken.

                            Respighi: Foto: picture-alliance © Costa/Leemag

Marie Victoire van Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936) is een echte rariteit. Het werd gecomponeerd in de periode 1912-1914 maar beleefde pas op 27 januari 2004 in Rome zijn première. Het libretto van Edmond Guirod past helemaal in de reeks opera’s die de Franse Revolutie als achtergrond hebben zoals Chénier en Dialogues.

 De opera begint in 1793, vier jaar na het begin van de revolutie. Graaf Maurice de Lanjallay en zijn vrouw Marie wonen nog steeds in hun landhuis en zijn min of meer gevrijwaard gebleven van de gevolgen van de revolutie. Als Maurice elders verblijft om zijn vader bij te staan, wordt Marie gearresteerd, samen met de Chevalier Cloriviere, een jeugdvriend van het echtpaar Lanjallay. Zij worden ter dood veroordeeld door een revolutionair tribunaal. De nacht voor de executie bezwijkt Marie voor de avances van Cloriviere: echtelijke trouw lijkt plotseling zo futiel nu ze de dood in de ogen kijkt. Maar uitgerekend dan wordt Robespierre gedood en de Terreur beëindigd. Marie behoudt haar leven maar maakt zichzelf verwijten: ze is nu een gevallen vrouw.

                   © Barbara Aumuller

Zes jaar later woont gravin Lanjallay in Parijs. Ze noemt zichzelf nu Marie Victoire, heeft een zoontje uit de liefdesnacht met Cloriviere en drijft een hoedenwinkel. Plotseling duikt Marie’s dood gewaande echtgenoot Maurice op. Kort daarna is een explosie te horen: Cloriviere heeft een aanslag op Napoleon gepleegd, die echter is mislukt. Hij wil zich verbergen in Marie’s winkel en treft daar Maurice die hem wegstuurt. Vervolgens geeft deze zichzelf aan bij de politie. Voor het gerecht probeert Marie haar man ertoe te bewegen zijn valse bekentenis in te trekken. Ook vertelt ze hem over haar misstap. Hij vergeeft haar maar houdt verder zijn mond. Dan staat Cloriviere op uit het publiek en bekent schuldig te zijn aan de aanslag op de Eerste Consul. Onder het zingen van Marie Antoinettes lievelingsliedje ‘Il pleut, il pleut, bergère’ schiet hij zichzelf door het hoofd.

De hoofdrollen werden in Berlijn vertolk door de Amerikaanse sopraan Takesha Meshé Kizart als Marie, bariton Markus Brück als Maurice en de tenor Germán Villar als Cloriviere.

                                                      Takesha Meshe Kizart . ©Barbara Aumuller

De muzikale leiding was in handen van Michail Jurowski.

Trailer van de productie:

Op CPO is een opname verschenen van deze productie uit 2009:

De ‘Ausgrabungen’ van Kirsten Harms: Germania in 2006

Tekst: Peter Franken


Deze opera van Alberto Franchetti (1860-1942) ging op 15 maart 1902 in La Scala in première. Het libretto is van Luigi Ilica, bekend van de tekstboeken voor Andrea Chénier en Tosca. Beide libretti waren oorspronkelijk voor Franchetti bestemd maar kwamen uiteindelijk bij zijn collega’s Giordano en Puccini terecht.


Franchetti was afkomstig uit een zeer welgestelde bankiersfamilie en kon zich permitteren het componeren louter als hobby te bedrijven. In 1888 huurde zijn vader voor hem het theater in Reggio Emilia af voor de première van zijn zoons eerste opera: Asrael. In 1892 volgde Cristoforo Colombo en tien jaar later Germania, waarbij Toscanini dirigeerde en Caruso zong. Het werk had aanvankelijk veel succes en werd in alle grote huizen gespeeld. Na een jaar of twintig raakte het echter op de achtergrond en werd vrijwel volledig vergeten.

Hieronder: Caruso zingt ‘Studenti! Udite’

De Duitse versie die in Berlijn werd vertoond paste uitstekend in het rijtje ‘Ausgrabungen’ door de toenmalige intendant van DOB, Kirsten Harms. De opera begint in 1806 in de omgeving van Neurenberg. Een groep studenten houdt de uitgever Johann Philipp Palm verborgen voor de politie. Deze is naar hem op zoek, in opdracht van de Franse bezettingsmacht. Hij heeft een geschrift verspreid waarin de vernedering van Duitsland aan de kaak wordt gesteld en de Fransen alsmede de Duitse vorsten die hen steunen, scherp worden aangevallen. In een subplot wordt Palm verraden door een jongen die later amnestie krijgt als hij zich bij de vrijheidsstrijders voegt.

De studenten zoeken naar mogelijkheden om het land in opstand tegen de bezetters te brengen. Hun aanvoerder Karl Worms wil de vreedzame weg bewandelen, zijn vriend en tegenstrever Friedrich Löwe is voorstander van een gewelddadige aanpak. Het gaat echter niet alleen om de pen tegen het zwaard.

Wat de verhouding tussen beide mannen compliceert is het feit dat Worms tijdens de afwezigheid van Löwe een verhouding heeft gehad met diens verloofde Ricke. Worms bezweert de vertwijfelde Ricke hierover te zwijgen. Als de strijd losbarst komt het bericht dat Worms is gesneuveld, tot kortstondige opluchting van Ricke die haar innerlijke rust terug hoopt te vinden. Maar op de huwelijksdag van Löwe en Ricke duikt Worms plotseling op, weliswaar zwaargewond maar nog in leven. Als hij ziet dat zijn geliefde is getrouwd met zijn rivaal, gaat hij er vandoor. Ook Ricke neemt de benen met achterlating van een brief waarin ze de affaire opbiecht en om vergeving vraagt.

Jaren later treffen we de protagonisten opnieuw, deze keer in Königsberg. Men maakt zich op voor de strijd om Duitsland te bevrijden van Napoleon. Worms leeft nog steeds en Löwe daagt hem uit voor een duel. Een vooraanstaand revolutionair weet hen ervan te overtuigen hun energie te richten op het grotere belang: de vrijheidstijd. Onder het uitroepen van ‘leve de dood’ gaat de hele groep op pad. Bij de daarop volgende Volkerenslag in Leipzig sneuvelt Worms. Löwe is stervende als Ricke hem op het slagveld terugvindt. Zij gaat bij hem liggen om alsnog een huwelijksnacht met haar echtgenoot te beleven.

Ik bezocht een voorstelling van deze opera tijdens de Revolutions Wochen in 2006, waarin  ook Andrea Chenier en Marie Victoire waren geprogrammeerd.

Bariton Bruno Caproni gaf een goede vertolking van Worms, zijn tegenpool en rivaal in de liefde Löwe was in goed handen bij de tenor Carlo Ventre, sterk optreden. Het meisje ‘tussen hun twee vuren’ werd vertolkt door de dramatische sopraan Lise Lindstrom, bij vlagen zeer ontroerend.

Renato Palumbo had de muzikale leiding.

Trailer van de productie:

Van de voorstelling is een opname uitgebracht op dvd (Cappricio 93518)




De ‘Ausgrabungen’ van Kirsten Harms: Cassandra in 2007

Tekst: Peter Franken

                                                                     Vittorio Gnecchi

Deze minder bekende opera is geschreven door Italiaanse componist Vittorio Gnecchi (1876 – 1954). Hij kwam uit een rijke familie en was daardoor financieel niet afhankelijk van zijn composities. Op 25 jarige leeftijd componeerde hij dit werk op een libretto van de befaamde Luigi Illica. De opera werd uitgegeven door Ricordi waarna op 5 december 1905 in het Teatro Communale di Bologna de première plaatsvond onder Arturo Toscanini. Gelet op al die klinkende namen en de daardoor gegenereerde aandacht zou het niet vreemd zijn geweest als Cassandra op zijn minst een plekje op het tweede plan binnen het repertoire had verworven. Het mocht echter niet zo zijn.

Bij gelegenheid van de première in Italië in 1906 van Strauss’ opera Salome gaf Gnecchi, waarschijnlijk uit bewondering voor zijn oudere succesvolle collega, hem een piano uittreksel van Cassandra. Toen een paar jaar later zowel Cassandra als Elektra op het programma stonden in Dresden constateerde men in het programmaboek ‘opmerkelijke overeenkomsten’ tussen beide werken. Het begint al met de zeer karakteristieke opening van Elektra (drie tonen waardoor verderop de tekst Aga-mem-non wordt gedragen) die vrijwel gelijk is aan de eerste maten van Cassandra. De status van Strauss, die van gevestigd, beroemd, bejubeld componist, gaf vervolgens een vreemde wending aan het geheel. De onbekende Gnecchi werd van plagiaat beschuldigd, waarbij gemakshalve werd vergeten dat diens opera al vier jaar eerder tot uitvoering was gebracht. Het is nooit meer goed gekomen met het werk en goed beschouwd ook niet met de componist.

Het is goed mogelijk dat het publiek eventuele overeenkomsten op muzikaal gebied heeft uitvergroot doordat de onderwerpen van beide opera’s direct in elkaars verlengde liggen. Cassandra is gebaseerd op het eerste deel van de Oresteia van Aeschylus getiteld Agamemnon. In Elektra wordt de stof behandeld uit het tweede deel, de Offerplengsters. Het derde deel behandelt de verdere ‘trials and tribulations’ van Orestes op een wijze die overigens afwijkt van hetgeen Euripides beschrijft in zijn stukken Orest en Iphigineia in Tauris. De opera Orest van Manfred Trojahn (nomen est omen) over dit deel van de nasleep van de Trojaanse oorlog die bij DNO zijn wereldpremière beleefde, is overigens gebaseerd op het stuk van Euripides.

Na het vertrek van de Grieken richting Troje blijft de jonge koningin Klytämnestra alleen achter met haar nog kleine kinderen Elektra en Orestes. Ze begint een verhouding met Aegisthus, een neef van haar echtgenoot, deels uit wraak voor het feit dat Agamemnon hun dochter Iphigenia heeft geofferd en deels ongetwijfeld ook uit onvervuld sexueel verlangen. Dat laatste wordt althans gesuggereerd door het liefdesduet dat beiden ten gehore brengen aan het begin van de opera. In geen enkel opzicht worden de twee protagonisten hier neergezet als een hedonistisch koppel zoals in Elektra. Het valt de toeschouwer niet zwaar om enige sympathie voor hen op te vatten.

Als Agamemnon na tien jaar eindelijk thuiskomt heeft hij de Trojaanse prinses Cassandra in zijn gevolg. Zij is zijn bijslaap en volgens sommige bronnen heeft hij inmiddels ook al een tweeling bij haar, de jongens Teledamus en Pelops. Het is een lange reis van Troje naar Mycene! Cassandra waarschuwt Agamemnon dat hij vermoord zal worden en hij gelooft haar. Daarmee is de ban verbroken die veroorzaakte dat haar voorspellingen nooit voor waar zouden worden gehouden. De keerzijde is dat zij, als gevolg van Apollo’s vervloeking, nu zelf ook zal sterven. En zo gebeurt het: Agamemnon wordt door Klytämnestra vermoord terwijl Aegisthus Cassandra voor zijn rekening neemt. Stervend roept Cassandra: ‘Orestes, Orestes’ daarmee vooruitwijzend naar het vervolg waarin Klytämnestra de verandering zal ondergaan in een oudere vrouw die ‘keine gute Nächte’ heeft.

Een gecoupeerde versie van Cassandra werd enige tijd geleden toen Kirsten Harms nog Intendantin was bij de Deutsche Oper Berlin aldaar gespeeld als proloog van Elektra. Beide opera’s gebruikten hetzelfde decor, een door een halfronde hoge muur begrensde ruimte, met goud bekleed (immers Mycene) met de mogelijkheid zowel op de muur als beneden te verblijven.

© Deutsche Oper Berlin

De kostumering was modern met als meest opvallend detail Susan Anthony als een jeugdige Klytämnestra in een zwart cocktailjurkje op naaldhakken, die voortdurend een grote bijl losjes achter haar rug meedraagt alsof het een kledingsaccessoire is.

© Deutsche Oper Berlin

Gustavo Porta vertolkte Agamemnon en Malgorzata Walewska tekende voor de titelrol. Gelet op het feit dat Cassandra pas laat in de opera opkomt en Klytämnestra van begin tot eind een centrale rol in de handeling vervult, had laatstgenoemde eigenlijk beter de titelheldin kunnen zijn.

De muziek doet denken aan zowel Strauss als Puccini en werd onder leiding van Leopold Hager overtuigend ten gehore gebracht. Het geheel was een groot succes en in mijn beleving een prachtige aanvulling op Elektra.

Van de opera is geen dvd beschikbaar, wel is er een cd met onder andere Alberto Cupido. Hoewel natuurlijk geen Strauss verdient Cassandra toch tenminste een plekje als voetnoot in de historie.

Moshinsky directs Grigorian in La Forza del destino

Text: Peter Franken

                                                             Gegam Grigorian as Don Alvaro

We will stay with Gegam Grigorian, who would have turned 70 on 29 January. In addition to the Russian repertoire, he also frequently sang the great Italian opera roles. One of those is Don Alvaro from Verdi’s La forza del destino. Grigorian sang this role in 1998 in a remarkable production of the Mariinsky Theatre under Valery Gergiev. The director this time was the renowned Elija Moshinsky who died on 14 January this year, six days after his 75th birthday.

                                                                Elijah Mochinsky

In this very fine production, Moshinsky limited himself to directing, nothing more, nothing less. The stage setting is a meticulously recreated copy by Andreas Roller of the original work by set designer Andrey Voitenko, who had been responsible for the stage set at the 1862 premiere of Forza in St. Petersburg. At the start of each scene, an image showing Roller’s work is briefly projected, immediately followed by the reconstructed version. It is very cleverly done and miraculously brings back to life the premiere of the very first version of the opera.

For the music the choice is also on the little-performed St. Petersburg version. In my opinion, the biggest difference with the later Milan version of 1869 lies in the much shorter overture. Here it ends very quickly, whereas the later version seems to drag on endlessly. Other changes pale into insignificance compared to the countless cuts that have plagued performances of Forza over the years.

Gergiev is presenting a complete original version and the result is astounding. The all-Russian cast, soloists, chorus and dancers, are magnificently dressed in costumes derived from the period in which the work was created. Although the story is set a 100 years earlier, (in the mid-18th century), it still  feels quite authentic to a contemporary audience.

A modern viewer will also be more alert to the racism that characterises the libretto of this opera. Don Alvaro is a half-breed, admittedly of Inka nobility, but still an indian. The furious way in which the Marquis of Calatrava and his son Don Carlo pour out their anger and indignation on Alvaro goes far beyond the classic case of ‘daughter elopes with a nobleman and we want our revenge.’ Here it is all about the alleged ‘pollution of the bloodline’; the ultimate affront to the Marquis and his hot-tempered son.

Prima donna Galina Gorchakova sings an almost spotless Donna Leonora. Her hesitations, fears, despair and agony are all perfectly dosed, and nowhere is her acting forced or overemphasised. She’s the whole package.

Marianna Tarasova is an, also outwardly, attractive Preziosilla. Her volume in the low register leaves something to be desired, but overall it is a fine performance. Tarasova’s acting is very strong; even had she not actually sung it, she would still have been able to recognisably perform the role.

Georgy Zastavny knows how to hold back as Fra Melitone; his monk is a somewhat frustrated, quick-tempered man who takes himself very seriously: Moshinsky clearly does not go for a buffo rendition. Melitone’s superior Padre Guardiano is in good hands with Sergei Alexashkin, a beautiful bass. A young Yevgeny Nikitin in the small role of the Alcalde is also quite pleasing.

Nikolai Putilin’s Don Carlo reminded me, particularly in the first two acts, of Detective Andy Sipowicz in the NYPD Blue series, a man with an extremely unreliable looking “ugly mug.” Also a matter of transference of course: Don Carlo does indeed lie about everything and anything. His make- up in the later acts is clearly different; now he is the revenge-seeking nobleman who has made the killing of his sister and her lover his life’s purpose. Putilin sings and acts a very convincing Don Carlo, someone you quickly come to dislike, and that is a compliment. His role fits perfectly in the line of ‘heroic baritones’ that Verdi has patented.

As so often with Verdi, the hero tenor does not get the girl, hardly even gets to sing a real duet with her and only meets his lost lover at the very end for a very brief moment of recognition and happiness. On the other hand, Don Alvaro does have very beautiful solos to sing, not as an intimate lover but more as a desperate romantic.

It is all made for Gegam Gregorian. It is the only recording I have of him singing in Italian and I can well imagine that in his glory years he took the international stage by storm. This Don Alvaro is absolutely top-notch; I am glad that, on the occasion of Grigorian’s seventieth birthday, I finally played that DVD again after at least 15 years.

Gergiev is the overall musical director and he turns it into a festive occasion. This recording comes six years after Pique Dame and it is clear that the overexploitation, that he subjected himself to during those few years, has aged him by 20 years. He has, of course, succeeded in his mission: to bring back the Mariinsky Theatre to the world stage.

Tribute to Gegam Grigorian.

Text: Peter Franken


Armenian tenor Gegam Grigorian died in 2016 shortly after his 65th birthday. Today he would have turned 70. For that reason, a memorial performance took place on 28 January in the Mariinsky Theatre where Grigorian achieved so many great successes under Gergiev in the 1990s. His now world-famous daughter Asmik sang the role of Lisa in Pique Dame, the opera in which her father so often starred as Herman.

For over 20 years, after travel restrictions were lifted due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Grigorian had an unparalleled international career that took him to all the leading opera stages. He sang almost every major tenor role in the Russian repertoire, but also many others. His Italian repertoire included Radames, Renato, Don Carlo, Alfredo, Il Duca, Manrico, Otello, Pinkerton, Loris, Cavaradossi, Pollione, Count Almaviva, Maurizio, Canio and Turridu.

I am not sure that I have ever heard him sing live. In 1996, Gergiev came to The Hague with the Mariinsky for two performances of Prince Igor, a production that he had recorded for Philips. On this recording Grigorian sang Vladimir Igoryevich, but I cannot find out if he was actually present in The Hague. On other recordings that I possess, he sings Pierre Besuchow in War and Peace and Don Alvaro in La forza del Destino.

But in view of the choice that the Mariinsky made for the memorial concert, I thought it appropriate to take another look at the 1992 recording of Pique Dame. It is a live performance from the Mariinsky under a very young Valery Gergiev. The credits still refer to the Kirov Opera, as the performance took place shortly after the revolution.


Yuri Temirkanov’s production is extremely classical, both in terms of the costumes from the time of Catherine the Great and the manner of staging. Everything is done exactly as prescribed by the libretto, down to the smallest details. The cast is representative for the top quality that characterised the company in those days; there are the big names in all the leading roles.

There is the luxurious cast of Olga Borodina as Pauline and Sergei Leiferkus as Count Tomsky. Leiferkus is emphatically present; you can hardly ignore him because of his somewhat ‘over the top’ costume. His two arias about the three cards and the little birds that are allowed to sit on his branch are performed with humour and verve.  Ludmilla Filatova as the Countess is rather a caricature, especially when she is given a nightcap to wear. Vocally, her contribution is adequate. The same applies to Alexander Gergalov’s Prince Yeletsky who, all considered, has only one chance to make himself heard. His declaration of love is moving, but Lisa walks away without any perceptible reaction immediately after the last note.
Lisa is sung by Maria Gulegina, and she gives an excellent performance. In her big solo in the last act, she does have to force herself a bit, but that may be blamed on the composer rather than the soprano. I would have liked to hear Asmik in this role; if anyone can handle these passages well, it is she.

But the reason I am reviewing this DVD is, of course, the Herman of the company’s star tenor at the time, Gegam Grigorian. He is 42 years old and in very good shape, Hochform as they say in Germany. His simple black costume, a kind of uniform, makes him stand out from the other men, who look a bit like tropical ornamental birds in a cage. This makes him instantly recognizable as an outsider. For that matter, Lisa’s dress is also remarkably sober, so simple indeed that she also stands out from her own entourage and thus is immediately paired up visually with Herman.


Grigorian’s Herman gets more and more touching towards the end. First he leaves his troubled Lisa to her fate and then he enters the gaming room. His behaviour is that of someone almost haunted, he is no longer in control of himself. After his winning card, the seven, he sings ‘What is our life? A game’. He is about to make a fortune, but it does not really matter to him any more. The death scene at the end, where, with his last breath, he asks Prince Yeletsky for forgiveness, reminds me of Fedora in the opera of the same name that I saw in Stockholm with daughter Asmik in the leading role. Gegam once sang the role of Fedora’s lover Loris.

I am determined to see his Forza del Destino again, not only because Grigorian sings Don Alvaro, but also because of the director of this production: the recently deceased Elijah Moshinsky. Also someone who will be sorely missed.

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.

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.