opera/operette/oratorium/koorwerken

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.

TOSCA

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 LESCAUT

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)

IL TABARRO

Tabarro-Melodram-Crader

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

EDGAR

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 FANCIULLA DEL WEST

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.

SONGS

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.



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.



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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

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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.



Placido Domingo and Verdi

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ERNANI

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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.

https://image.ceneostatic.pl/data/products/52169421/i-ernani-votto-kabaivanska-domingo-cd.jpg
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.


AIDA

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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.

 

 

Domingo-Disco-Aida-Jones
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

trovatore-price-d
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?’

trovatore-dvd

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 IN MASCHERA

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).

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

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

Mahagonny uit de LA Opera is nog steeds de moeite waard

Tekst: Peter Franken

In maart stond Kurt Weils Mahagonny geprogrammeerd bij DNO maar de coronacrisis gooide roet in het eten. Voorlopig zal een uitvoering van deze productie uit Aix en Provence in regie van Ivo van Hove er wel niet van komen. Bij wijze van substituut belicht ik daarom een oude opname onder leiding van James Conlon. Het betreft de productie van John Doyle voor LA Opera in 2007, op dvd uitgebracht door EuroArts.

De opera Mahagonny heeft als voorloper het Mahagonny Songspiel, een concertante eenakter die in 1927 in première ging. Hieruit zijn de twee Engelstalige nummers afkomstig die ook buiten het werk grote bekendheid hebben gekregen: de ‘Benares Song’ en vooral de ‘Alabama Song’. In 1930 ging de ‘grote’ opera in première, afgezien van die twee songs geheel in het Duits op teksten van Berthold Brecht.

De productie in Los Angeles gebruikt Engels als voertaal en daarmee gaat veel van de sfeer verloren. Met name het topnummer ‘Denn wie man sich bettet, so liegt man‘ wordt in mijn beleving volledig onherkenbaar. Iedere liefhebber van Weil en Brecht kijkt uit naar de volgende tekst:
‘Meine Herren, meine Mutter prägte auf mich einst ein schlimmes Wort:
Ich würde enden im Schauhaus oder an einem noch schlimmern Ort.
Ja, so ein Wort, das ist leicht gesagt, aber ich sage euch: Daraus wird nichts!
Das könnt ihr nicht machen mit mir! Was aus mir noch wird, das werdet ihr schon sehen!
Ein Mensch ist kein Tier!
Denn wie man sich bettet, so liegt man, es deckt einen da keiner zu
Und wenn einer tritt, dann bin ich es, und wird einer getreten, dann bist’s du.

Audra McDonald heeft als operasopraan en toneelactrice geen enkele moeite met de vertolking van dit lied maar het doet me niets. De rauwe sfeer ontbreekt die de technisch onvolkomen interpretatie van Lotte Lenya kenmerkt. Net als de ‘Alabama Song’ moet ook dit nummer meer cabaretesk gebracht worden, vind ik. Denk aan Ute Lemper.

De decors van Mark Bailey en de kostuums van Ann Hould-Ward zijn inventief en goed verzorgd, ze sluiten uitstekend aan bij de inhoud van het stuk. Dat laatste geldt ook de casting van de voornaamste rollen. Zo wordt Fatty the Bookkeeper vertolkt door een zeer omvangrijke Robert Wörle en Trinity Moses door de zwaargewicht Donny Ray Albert.

Patti LuPone is op zich goed gecast als de Weduwe Begbick maar vertolkt de rol naar mijn smaak iets teveel als Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. Haar bravoure is te gekunsteld, echte hardheid en sarcasme ontbreken. Hier was een ervaren Klytemnestra beter op haar plaats zijn geweest.

De tenor Anthony Dean Griffey is zeer goed op dreef als Jimmy Mahoney, hier Jimmy MacIntyre. Zijn vertolking van ‘When the sky turns brighter’ waarin hij de zon vraagt niet op te komen om zodoende de dag van zijn proces uit te stellen, is een hoogtepunt in Griffey’s optreden. Het nummer doet enigszins denken aan ‘E lucevan le stelle’ uit Tosca.

De hoer Jenny, hier alomtegenwoordig op het toneel, is in goede handen bij Audra McDonald. Ze is een absolute blikvanger, een effect dat nog wordt versterkt door haar ‘scanty costume’, en zet al haar acteertalent in om Jenny zoveel als mogelijk in de pas te laten lopen met wat men zich bij een ervaren professional in het Wilde Westen voorstelt. Maar betaalde liefde is geen liefde, ze laat Jim als een baksteen vallen en verklaart zich nader met ‘Meine Herren…. und wird einer getreten, dann bist’s du’.

Overigens is zij niet de enige. Jim heeft zich schuldig gemaakt aan de grootste misdaad die men in Mahagonny kan begaan: hij heeft geen geld en kan zijn whisky niet betalen. Daarvoor wordt hij ter dood veroordeeld, niemand springt voor hem in de bres.

Mahagonny is een politieke satire maar de inhoud is zo weinig eenduidig dat men er zeer verschillende interpretaties aan kan geven. De kritiek op de oppermacht van het geld in de maatschappij is echter duidelijk genoeg.

James Conlon heeft de muzikale leiding en is verantwoordelijk voor een muzikaal smetteloze vertolking van dit weinig gespeelde stuk, een opera die naar mijn smaak echter beter gespeeld kan worden als cabareteske musical. Alleen zo kan recht worden gedaan aan de tijd en sfeer waarin het stuk is ontstaan.

Refice’s Cecilia: music cutting through the soul

cecilia

There are those operas you just don’t know what to do with. You find them beautiful, divinely beautiful even, and you are moved to the depths of your soul. And that without understanding even a single word. Apparently the composer knows how to hit a sensitive chord, because as you listen you keep hoping that the heavenly music will never stop.
Heavenly is perhaps indeed the best word with which to describe Cecilia by Licinio Refice (1883 – 1954), an opera that most resembles a mystery play.
I am not insensitive to the miraculous, I grew up as a Jewish girl in a strongly Catholic Poland. But even as a child I was already aware that all those miracles were unattainable to me and therefore I found them extremely exciting and attractive.

cecilia-heilig

We know Saint Cecilia as the patron saint of music and church music, which, according to many hagiographers, is based on a misunderstanding. What we know of her comes mainly from the Legenda Aurea by Jacopo da Voragine, a reference book on the lives of saints, written in the thirteenth century. That book was the starting point for Refice’s opera. Refice, who was not only a composer and a conductor, but also a priest!

The legend (and the libretto) in short: the stunningly beautiful Cecilia went to martyrdom as a virgin, but not before she had persuaded her husband Vergilio (whom she never de facto made her husband) and his brother Tiburzio to come to the true faith. Both gentlemen share the same fate as Cecilia (beheading), with Cecilia being tortured first, which she endures in a miraculous way.

The premiere in Rome in 1934 was an unprecedented success and the opera was performed more than a thousand times until the rational took over from the mysterious. Cecilia’s  musical language is blatantly veristic, with sentiment increased to exeptional heights. You recognize fragments from Butterfly, but the rousing chords and the scents of roses and lilies, as captured in notes, remind me most of Zandonai and his Francesca da Rimini. One also tastes the atmosphere of Byzantium, that of La Fiamma of Respighi. I love it very much and I can completely lose myself in this music.

Until recently I only knew the opera from two shortened recordings, one with Renata Scotto and one with Renata Tebaldi, and from two arias sung by Claudia Muzzio.

Renata Scottio sings ‘Per amore di Gesù’:

The performance, recorded live in the Cathedral of Monte Carlo in 2013, is, as far as I know, the first complete commercial recording of the work and I am sorry to say that the performance is no more than satisfactory.

cecilia-denia

                                             Denia Mazzolla Gavazzeni

Denia Mazzolla Gavazzeni has for years been the greatest advocate of obscure and little-known veristic operas and for that alone she deserves the greatest praise. She has never been the best opera singer of the world; there was always a frayed edge to her voice and her high notes could sound unpleasantly metallic. But I could (and can!) forgive her these flaws. She was always able to strongly identify with her roles and her performances could be scorching at times. But now that her voice has lost its freshness, her Cecilia cannot convince me of her unearthly beauty. To produce the heavenly sounds he composed for Cecilia, Refice needed someone to sing with ‘God in the throat’. And that is lacking here.

Giuseppe Veneziano is a decent Valeriano, Corrado Cappitta is convincing in the double roles of Tiburzio and Amachio and Serena Pasquini sounds angelic enough for the “L’annunzio” sung by God’s Angel. Everyone really is trying their best, it is just not good enough for a top performance, which may also be due to the very prosaic and down to earth direction of Marco Fracassi.

Below: Claudia Muzio in two scenes from Cecilia: the prologue ‘Per amor di Gesu’, recorded in 1934, and the death scene, ‘Grazie, sorelle’, from 1935:

The fact that Refice has not yet been completely forgotten is due to ‘Ombra di Nube’ (Shadow of the clouds) a song that is still being sung and recorded, a.o. by Jonas Kaufmann:

And here again is Claudia Muzzio, for whom Refice originally composed the song. Now you can hear what Refice meant by ‘God in the throat’, this singer can and does give a tangible feeling to his deep faith and she is also able to make you believe that the ‘dark clouds will disappear naturally, making life beautiful again’.

Plácido Domingo and his belcanto roles

Domingo 21

Domingo and Belcanto? Surely that was more something for his colleagues Pavarotti, Carreras and Kraus? And yet: certainly at the beginning of his career Domingo was also a Belcanto singer, although his high notes were not always really that high. For him, the interpretation of both the music and the text was essential. That is why even in this repertoire he was looking for the roles in which the character had more to offer than just ‘clean’ singing.

Lucia di Lammermoor

Domingo Lucia POns
Domingo made his international debut at the age of 21, as Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor in Dallas. A special event, because his Lucia was then sung by 61-year-old Lilly Pons, who said her farewell to the operatic stage with this role.

Domingo Lucia Suth
In 1970 he sang Edgardo at the Metropolitan Opera, with none other than Joan Sutherland as Lucia. Gala (GL 100.571) released the highlights, combined with excerpts from La Traviata, from December that same year (also with La Stupenda). The sound is very poor, but it is definitely a noteworthy document.

 

Domingo Lucia Stider
It was only in 1993 that Domingo sang the role in the recording studio. The result is not entirely satisfactory. Which is not his fault. His Edgardo sounds less lyrical than twenty years earlier, but with such passion!

Cheryl Studer, who at that time was recording anything and everything soprano, was no real Lucia. She was a great Strauss and Mozart singer and her Wagners and Verdi’s were outstanding, but Lucia was too ambitious for her. Understand me well: she did have the high notes and they were very solid, but that’s exactly what you do not want for Lucia. The notes shouldn’t stand rock solid, they should shine, sparkle, sprint if necessary, and she couldn’t do that.

However, the real ‘culprit’ is the conductor. He is rushing things along and never ever stops. Still, the recording is very worthwhile, especially if you want to hear something else from Domingo and appreciate the quality of the sound.

Roberto Devereux

Domingo Roberto

A reviewer from the New York Times wrote that it was without a doubt the most exciting event of the musical year 1970, and that I can totally believe. The performance of 24 October 1970 was recorded live and we are very lucky to have it.

Julius Rudel (well, where have all these great maestros gone?) conducts with a firm hand and with great love for the work. To cry so beautiful.

Domingo’s voice sounds like a bell and his performance causes ecstatic ovations. And about Beverly Sills (Elisabetta) I can be brief: overwhelming! No one, but no one has ever sung the part better than she has. She surely is Elisabetta. Everybody should see or hear her in this role (there’s also a DVD, unfortunately without Domingo). The applause after her ‘L’Amor suo mi fé benata’ seems to last forever.

Anna Bolena

Domingo Bolena
Anna Bolena is considered to be the first important Romantic Italian opera and for Donizetti it was his big breakthrough. For Domingo too, Anna Bolena was a milestone: with the role of Percy he made his debut in New York.

He was then (can you believe it?) 25 years old, but his voice was completely ‘mature’: full, firm, soft, hard, begging, determined, with all the nuances in between. Talk about phenomenon!

The leading role was sung by Elena Souliotis, then 23. An almost forgotten singer now (her career didn’t last), but her intensity can only be compared to that of Maria Callas. A fun fact: La Divina was in the audience at the time!

Giovanna was sung by Marylin Horne and their duets will surely give goosebumps to the devotees. Janet Baker also made her American debut in the role of Smeton.
The opera was recorded live at Carnegie Hall in 1966. My copy is by Legato (LCD-149-3), but the recording is now also available on other labels.

Norma

Doingo Norma
Pollione is one of the shining roles of the young Domingo. No wonder. A warlord and a lover: that’s what he is all about. In Norma he could show it all.
He took the role in 1973 (once RCA GD 86502) and I think that’s a bit premature. Oh yes, his voice is crystal clear and so beautiful that it almost hurts, but he yet has to gain more of the needed authority.
Nevertheless: recommended, not in the least because of Montserrat Caballé, who sings the leading part.


Some words about Domingo and Otello:

otello domingootello
There is no doubt in my mind that Plàcido Domingo is the greatest interpreter of Otello, especially in the last 30 years of the twentieth century. Not only as a singer, but also as an actor Domingo knows how to adapt to his partners in a really brilliant way, thus his interpretation always fascinates and it is never the same twice. Sir Laurence Olivier, one of the greatest British actors, once said: ‘Domingo plays Othello as well as I do, and he has that voice!’

Domingo’s fascination with Otello started early on. In 1960 he made his debut in this opera, but as Cassio. In 1962 – it was also the last time he sang the role – he sang opposite Mario del Monaco’s Otello. In his memoirs he writes that he already knew then that Otello was going to be his ‘dream role’.

otello-placido-domingo-katia_1_8e94452a005bdde991cf21943c48cdb0
He sang his very first ‘Moor from Venice’ in Hamburg, on 28 September, 1975. He himself says it is one of the most important dates in his career. Desdemona was sung by the very young Katia Ricciarelli and the opera was conducted by James Levine. The complete production is now available on You Tube:

A year later the opera was performed at the Milanese Scala. It was the first collaboration between Domingo and Carlos Kleiber (outside of studio production). Mirella Freni sang Desdemona and Piero Cappuccilli Jago. It was broadcast live on Italian TV and it is now also on You Tube.

There is a sound recording also. It has been released on various pirate labels and can also be found on Spotify. It is actually mandatory for lovers of the opera, despite the poor quality of the sound and the abcense of a few bars from the third act (something happened in the audience).



otello domingo en price
Another fantastic live Otello comes from London, recorded on 19 February 1978. Again with Carlos Kleiber, but Desdemona was sung by Margaret Price and Silvano Carroli was Jago. Very exciting.

otello rca
Of all his studio recordings of Otello, the one from – once RCA now Sony- released in 1978, is the one I hold most dear. Desdemona was sung by Renata Scotto and she gave the role an extra dimension. She was not only innocent, but also audibly angry, sad and scared. Sherrill Milnes was a devilish Jago and the whole was led by James Levine.



otello kiri
Opus Arte (OA R3102) has released an old-fashioned, beautiful performance from Covent Garden (director Elijah Moshinsky). It was recorded in October 1992. With her beautiful lyrical soprano, Kiri Te Kanawa is a dream of a Desdemona. Her passivity fits the role well, especially as it is also very much within the director’s concept. Sergei Leiferkus (Jago) is not really idiomatic in Italian, but he sings and acts well and the orchestra, under the firm leadership of Georg Solti, plays the stars from the sky.

otello fleming
The same production was given at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1996 and recorded by Deutsche Grammophon (0730929). It was a milestone in opera history, because Renée Fleming made her unparalleled debut in the role of Desdemona.

She really made my heart contract with sorrow and emotion. Her ‘Willow Song’ with the strongly accentuated repetitions of ‘cantiamo’, her angelic ‘Ave Maria’, her oh-so-human played despair, disbelief and sorrow – no one could remain unmoved.

The lyrical tenor Richard Croft was also visually well cast as Cassio, and the whole production was under the thrilling leadership of maestro Levine.

Here is an excerpt: