discografieën

Let’s talk about Mozart’s Idomeneo

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Gods! Did they ever mean well with us poor humans? We were provoked and incited by them only to be tormented and punished, with no defence at all. After all: did we really have free will? The divine decree was law and we could not escape the fate predestined for us. All this can be read in the thick book called ‘Mythology’, from which the greatest (stage) writers, poets, painters and composers have liberally drawn.

El Juicio de Paris by Enrique Simonet, c. 1904.



Take the Trojan War, for instance. It all started with an apple and a ‘Miss Goddess – contest’ and hundreds of thousands of human beings suffered as a result. The jury was bribed with the promise of love from the most beautiful woman in the world, but this promise failed to add that she was already married and her husband might claim her. If not voluntary then forced.

The war lasted no less than ten years and by the end, just about all the heroes were dead or cursed by the gods who, after all, had caused the whole situation. And don’t think, you can catch your breath now, because after the war we had to deal with the real post-Trojan War traumas (I’m not making it up!) and the gods were also still arguing amongst themselves.

Idomeneo, king of Crete, returns to his country, but things don’t go smoothly. He ends up in a huge sea storm and promises Neptune to sacrifice to him the first creature he encounters on his return. But this happens to be his own son, Idamante! Oops!

Loopholes are sought, but gods are obviously smarter. And then we have a triangle relationship: Elletra (yes, Agememnon’s daughter) has fled to Crete and fallen in love with Idamante. But so has Ilia, the captured daughter of King Priam of Troy. Anyway – if you do not know the full story, just read it.
We will now deal with the various performances of the opera.


Personally, I have never found Idomeneo to be Mozart’s strongest opera and I was never really impressed. But now, after repeated listening and re-listening, I have had to revise my opinion. Because the music, it really is genius after all!

Anton Raaff, de eerste vertolker van de rol van Idomeneo



CDS


Sir Charles Mackerras



To get right to the point – I personally think the 2001 recording by Warner Classics (5099994823820) conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras is the very best. It does have one downside (about that later), but that could also be down to my personal taste.

To start with the smaller roles, Anthony Rolfe-Johnson (Arbace) has a voice of pure gold. It is a pleasure to listen to him and I can never get enough. One can only wonder: why Arbace and not Idomeneo himself? Yes, I know he recorded the role for Gardiner, but, so what?

Paul Charles Clarke is a fantastic Supreme Priest, chilling yet a real human at the same time. La Voce is very impressively sung by the then very young John Relya.

Barbara Frittoli is a wonderful Elettra. Hurt, and yearning for revenge, yet ultimately resigned to her fate. I would have liked to have heard a bit more drama, but her rendition fits in nicely with the conductor’s vision.

Lisa Milne’s rendition of Ilia is perhaps the finest I have ever heard. Lovely she is, but also loving and very determined. Her soprano is ‘liquid’ – think, warm honey, but with a peppery touch. To that, the warm, tormented mezzo of the lamented Lorraine Hunt Lieberson fits like a glove. Together, they sound as if they were indeed always a unit.

And now for my minus: Ian Bostridge’s Idomeneo. Not yet as vain, narcissistic and mannered, which so marred his recordings and performances in recent years, but he sounds so incredibly ordinary! Not a tormented king, but the next-door neighbour. He singing is clean, but his coloratures are sparse – and this for someone coming from the Baroque tradition!

The score is pretty much complete, not even the ballet at the end is missing. It is usually omitted, and as far as I am concerned absolutely rightly so. It is nothing but an anticlimax and, after listening to it once, I never listened to it again. There is a brief booklet with the track list, but the box also includes a bonus CD with synopsis and the complete libretto.



James Levine



In 1996, Deutsche Grammophon (4477372) recorded the opera conducted by maestro James Levine with just about the Metropolitan Opera’s biggest stars of the time. No idea if it is idiomatic, but I find it HUGE!

Levine’s muscular conducting brings out hidden treasures and in no other performance can you hear how progressive the music really is! The tempi are obviously brisk, but nowhere rushed and most of the voices are overwhelming.

The role of Arbace is curiously taken by a baritone. Well, Thomas Hampson’s timbre is indeed more like that of a tenor and he is more beautiful in the highs than in the lows, but Mozart explicitly asked for a (light!) tenor. But it is not disturbing, quite the contrary. Especially since Hampson manages to fill in the role of the king’s confidant so perfectly.

Frank Loppardo is no match for Clarke with Mackerras, but he holds his own in the small but very heavy part of the Chief Priest.

Bryn Terfel is a very strong La Voce, his sound will automatically make you shiver with fear.

Carol Vaness (Elettra) sounds surprisingly lyrical. Fortunately, she picks up nicely at ‘Oh smania! O furie!”, exactly as we have come to expect from her. Delicious! Yes, she is an Elettra after my own heart!

Heidi Grant Murphy (Ilia) is a bit out of place in the big voice fest. Her pouty timbre reminds me a lot of Kathleen Battle, not really my ‘cup of tea’.

Cecilia Bartoli is a very virtuoso Idamante, very convincing too, though she sounds a bit too feminine at times.

Finally, Plácido Domingo’s Idomeneo is exactly what we expect from him: with his beautiful, warm tenor, his regal recitation and his commitment, he makes Idomeneo a very emotional and mostly very humane king.


DVDS

Pier Luigi Pizzi

From Teatro San Carlo in Naples comes Pier Luigi Pizzi’s production, recorded in 2004 (Dynamic 33463). The direction is typical Pizzi – if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Very realistic, but with a twist and lots of male (semi-)nudity. Lots of ballet too and the colours are mainly black and white with a touch of red. Only Elettra brings in an extra colour. Her purple outfit must – I assume – represent her fury. The setting has a strong cardboard feel to it and there is a lot of lying on the floor, singing.

To be honest, by now I have had enough of it, of nudity and nappies, over the years I have seen more than enough of them. But one thing I have to give Pizzi credit for: his productions are always exciting and his character direction very competent. It also has a very Greek feel to it.

 Jörg Schneider (Arbace) is on the very light side. His voice is definitely beautiful, but I miss the expression. The Chief Priest (Dario Magnabosco) doesn’t really come across, a pity, and about La Voce I’ll keep quiet: he is barely audible. Perhaps he should have been amplified?

Iano Tamar is an outstanding Elettra. She impresses not only with her appearance and acting, but also with her singing. That’s how I like to hear it.

I had more trouble with Angeles Blancas Gulin’s Ilia. Beautiful woman, good actress, but so incredibly Callas-focused. And I found her singing really annoying at times, since it is often not on pitch.

Sonia Ganassi is perhaps the best Idamante ever. Not only is her singing most beautiful, her coloratures are perfect and her timbre warm. For her alone, the DVD is more than worth it.

Kurt Streit was once among my favourite tenors. He is also very much in his prime here. Listen to his undoubtedly impressive ‘Fuor der mar’, even if it doesn’t sound entirely pure:




Dieter Dorn



Anyway, compared to Dieter Dorn’s production, shot in Munich in June 2008 (Medici Arts 2072448), Pizzi can pass for the best director in the world. Dorn starts with slaps, blood and violence. What is this all about? Surely the war ended long ago? But maybe we’re looking back? Or are these Idomeneo’s nightmares?

And where and when is it all taking place: it could be Crete, but we could also have ended up in Africa. Could also be Munich in June 2008. The characters look most like a mixture of hippies and Hells Angels in African costumes, but maybe those are really Martians? Oh well. Why not. Sigh.

The choreography is disturbing, in itself there is nothing against that. The storm is nicely depicted – unfortunately the images don’t make sense. And why are, during Elettra’s first aria, the extras covered in blood? Furthermore, there is a continuous running through the hall – those poor people sitting upstairs and/or to the side. Bet they couldn’t  see anything at all.

Rainer Trost is a pretty much perfect Arbace in terms of voice, but if you want to enjoy his singing, you have to close your eyes and keep it that way. What on earth the director came up with for him… !

Juliane Banse is a beautiful Ilia. Her voice is small and limited, but very beautiful in timbre. Moreover, she is a more than convincing actress.

Annette Dasch (Elettra) is a young attractive singer, who shot up like a comet and has made a huge career within a short time. Don’t ask me why. I find her just plain ordinary. Oh yes, she is good, sure, but that good? In the recording, she sounds distant and not even completely pure.

For Idamante, they surprisingly chose a tenor. Nothing against it, especially if the tenor in question is called Pavol Breslik and possesses a wonderfully lyrical timbre. But you should prepare your ears for a different sound.

John Mark Ainsley is Idomeneo. I could not take my eyes off him. Such an actor! And what a voice! You will surely instantly forget the ridiculous direction. For his performance alone, I wouldn’t want to miss the DVD – you must see and hear it at least once.

Below trailer of the production:




As a bonus, I have for you Sena Jurinac as Ilia in ‘Zeffiretti lusinghieri’. This is the very essence of beauty.





Plácido Domingo in his lesser-known recordings

Isaac Albéniz Merlin

The present recording offers a great opportunity for a musical game. The composer came from Spain, the orchestral sound is Wagnerian and the sung text is in (Old) English: who, oh who?

Isaac Albéniz (because this is about him) lived for quite some time in London where he befriended Lord Francis Burdett Money-Coutts, a wealthy banker with great ambitions and literary aspirations. His greatest dream was creation of an English counterpart to the Ring of the Nibelungen, and the story of King Arthur lent itself perfectly to that.

Albéniz received all possible support from the librettist/commissioner and in 1897 Merlin was created, which should have been the first part of the trilogy. The opera was never performed in its entirety and the score lay scattered between Madrid and London. That it was found and restored is thanks to conductor José De Eusebio, who, bolstered by a star-studded cast, was also allowed to record it for Decca.

The truly great cast is led by Plácido Domingo at his best as Arthur. As Merlin, we hear Carlos Álvarez: a dream of a baritone, warm, round and blessed with an almost old-fashioned morbidezza

https://open.spotify.com/album/40MeVLGOC3RuN7hwsQd441?si=aNCEPU5NQKuZan3eGiAJXQ

Beethoven Fidelio

If you want thunder and lightning in your Fidelio: choose for Daniel Barenboim’s

recording. Here, not only is the orchestra (Staatskapelle Berlin) of almost Wagnerian proportions, so are the singers: Waltraud Meier (Leonore), Plácido Domingo (Florestan), Falk Struckman (Don Pizarrro), René Pape (Rocco), Kwangchul Youn (Don Fernando).


On the other hand the roles of Jaquino (Werner Güra) and Marzelline (Soile Isokoski) are wonderfully lyrical (although more heavily cast than usual). The tempi are solid but never punishing, and Barenboim conducts with verve.

Bretón La Dolores

I know Tomas Bretón as one of the best zarzuela composers and his La Verbena de la Paloma regularly ends up in my CD player. From La Dolores, I knew – until not so long ago – only one aria and a single duet, as those belong to my Domingo collection.

Plácido Domingo sings ‘Jota’ from La Dolores:



This CD was a very exciting and very pleasant first encounter with the complete work and I sat up straight at the very first notes. The beautiful colours that the orchestra here displayed could only be the work of an important maestro.

The prelude strongly reminded me of Cavalleria Rusticana, which was only reinforced by the choral part that followed. But just when I thought I had heard it all before (besides the already mentioned ‘Cavalleria’, I also thought I recognised ‘Carmen’), it took a totally different turn.

Yes, it is unmistakably Spanish and often I was also reminded of El Gato Montés by Manuel Penella Moreno, especially in the brilliant scenes preceding the bullfight. But what most surprised me: why was La Dolores not recorded earlier? The first performance in 1895 was a huge success and the opera was even filmed.

Manuel Lanza (no relation) has a beautiful baritone voice that reminded me strongly of Carlos Álvarez.

Tito Beltrán has recorded a few solo CDs since 1993, when he won the Cardiff Competition, and it felt good to hear him in a complete opera recording.

And Plácido Domingo is, as (almost) always, superior.

Alberto Ginastera



The music of Alberto Ginastera, arguably the most important Argentine composer, is still terra incognita for most of us. Warner Classics has collected several of his vocal works on a new CD, with shining contributions from Plácido Domingo and Virginia Tola.
The scenes from ‘Don Rodrigo’ are no less than a gift, but: why only these two scenes? There is still no official recording of the opera, which is best described – in terms of musical structure – as the Argentine Wozzeck.

Plácido Domingo already sang the lead role at the opera’s US premiere in 1966 (!), at the New York City Opera. It is hard to compare his voice then and now, but his great aria “Señor del Perdón”, still rings as clear as a bell.

Domingo sings”Señor del Perdón”, recording from 22 February 1966:



In 1966, the role of Rodrigo’s beloved Florinda was sung by Jeannine Crader, an American soprano who was also the first to record Ginestera’s cantata Milena.

In the new recording, Domingo is joined by the brilliant Argentine soprano Virginia Tola. Her voice is childlike naïve and dramatic at the same time. Her last words after Rodrigo’s death will continue to haunt you.




Händel Tamerlano




A production directed by Graham Vick and conducted by Paul McCreesh was recorded at the Teatro Real in Madrid in 2008 (Opus Arte OA Bd7022 D). The cast was undoubtedly good, with Sara Mingardo leading the way as an outstanding Andronico.

Plácido Domingo (Bajazet) was making his debut in a baroque opera, but even he, my great idol, could not prevent me from falling asleep all the time. At his ‘Figlia mia non pianger’, I woke up and was momentarily moved, but that was it.

Much of the boredom is undoubtedly down to the director. Vick’s production is bare, bleak and (I assume?) aesthetically pleasing.


Below, Domingo in ‘Figlia mia non pianger’

Mare Nostrum: Plácido Domingo honours the Mediterranean Sea


Plácido Domingo recorded this CD in 2016. The ‘Mar’ in this case is the Mediterranean Sea. The singer who never takes a break, as Domingo is widely known, has collected songs from numerous Mediterranean countries. A surprising selection…

The Romans called the Mediterranean Sea ‘Mare Nostrum’, our sea. And that is true: the sea belongs to all of us. Domingo states on the album: “I bow before your grandeur. I am deeply grateful for the privilege of having been born in Spain, the land that is always caressed by your waters. I honour you in the only way I can: by singing your songs.”

The countries that surround the sea are all different and you can hear that in their songs. Domingo’s choice is surprising. Besides the not very exciting ‘Torna a Surriento’ and ‘Plaisir d’Amour’ (both in a new arrangement by Robert Sadin), he sings, among others, the Spanish classic ‘Del Cabello Más Sutil’ by Fernando Obradors, one of the most beautiful songs ever.

Very exciting and surprising are the Corsican polyphonic ‘Anghjulina’, sung with Barbara Fortuna and ‘Potho Reposare’, a beautiful love song from Sardinia.

I am less happy with ‘Aranjuez’, which in my opinion has already been completely milked dry, although the arrangement here is very refreshing. In its place I would have liked to hear something from Greece, because the traditional Cypriot song ‘To Yasemi’ certainly tastes like more.

There are more things of beauty on the CD. ‘Adio Kerida’ for example, sung in Ladino, one of the best known songs of the Spanish Jews.

Or the Israeli ‘Layla Layla’ by poet Natan Alterman, sung in perfect Ivrit. Or ‘Lamma Bada Yatathana’, a ‘muwashshah’ from Arab Andalusia, from the 12th century, with a typical North African rhythm (samai thaqil).

Trailer:






Mozart Idomeneo



In 1996, Deutsche Grammophon (4477372) recorded the opera conducted by Maestro James Levine with just about the Metropolitan Opera’s biggest stars of the time. No idea if it is idiomatic, but I find it HUGE!

Levine’s muscular conducting brings out hidden treasures and in no other performance can you hear how progressive the music is! The tempi are obviously brisk, but nowhere rushed, and most of the voices are overwhelming.

Plácido Domingo’s Idomeneo is exactly what we expect from him: with his beautiful, warm tenor, his regal recitation and his commitment, he makes Idomeneo a very emotional and mostly very humane king.

Rossini Barbiere di Sevilglia



In 1992, Deutsche Grammophon (4357632) presented a very special recording of the work: in fact, the role of Figaro was sung by none other than Plácido Domingo.

He does it very convincingly, proving that he has not only a beautiful voice but also a comical talent.



Arias by Verdi, but now as a baritone



The Domingo phenomenon …. No, I am not going to bombard you with facts and trivia, all of which you will have known for a long time because the press can’t get enough of them.

It so happens that, besides being a real fan, I am also a critical listener and I do my best not to let my ratio and my anima get in each other’s way. Whether I succeed is up to you, my reader, to judge.

Shaking my head, I read what some of my colleagues write about Domingo. He is blamed for singing baritone roles when he is not a real baritone. No, he is not (do I hear anything about Ramon Vinay?), but what bothers me most is that those are the same critics who have never even considered Domingo to be a real tenor. Everything, and certainly a human voice is mostly a matter of taste. But how you construct your criticism (or not) is more than that, it’s also about decency.
And now back to what this is all about: CD of baritone-Verdi arias by tenor/baritone Plácido Domingo.

Domingo has a Verdi curriculum to match, so he had already sung live in most of Verdi’s operas. But there is more, as he has also recorded all his major tenor arias.

It is a bit of an unreal experience to hear him now; singing his former rivals or the fathers in the same operas. His advantage: he knows the operas inside out. Your advantage as a listener: a totally different approach to those roles than you are used to. He understands the other side too!

That his Simon Boccanegra makes the most impression is not surprising: he has had that role in his repertoire for a few years now and has performed it all over the world (no, not in the Netherlands, somehow the Netherlands no longer count as part of “the world”).

Domingo sings ‘Plebe! Patrizi’ from Simon Boccanegra (Met 2010):



‘Ecco la spada’ is of such intensity that it renders me breathless. In this, he is assisted by (among others) Angel Joy Blue, a soprano who also partnered him at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam. We are going to hear more from that lady.

His father Germont (La Traviata) and Rigoletto also betray a his powerful experience of the stage: in ‘Cortigiani, vil razza dannata’ he sounds no less than heartbreaking.
He has also made Luna (Il Trovatore) his own by now. ‘Il balen’ already sounds impressive, but in ‘Qual suono’, with the more than excellent contribution of the Valencia choir, he lets himself go all the way and the result is stunning.

The Orquesta de la Comunitat Valenciana conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado sounds very competent and it gives the star all the space he needs to shine, which he amply does.
The making of:

Bonus

Plácido Domingo in “The Enchanted Island” (2011): “Who dares to call me? – Gone forever”


One more bonus:

Kind of Top Ten 2022

First of all, my apologies: this year I have hardly posted any new reviews. This was for personal reasons

 I was forced to limit myself to translations but  I did a lot of portraits of singers who deserved to be featured again.

Renata Scotto had her birthday on 24 February


Renata Scotto, ‘la mia Divina Assoluta’ made her opera debut at the age of eighteen as Violetta (La Traviata). Her ‘official’ debut was the next day in Milan. Shortly afterwards, she sang Madama Butterfly in Savona.

Geraldine Farrar 28 February

In 1915, Cecil B. DeMille filmed the opera again, this time with Geraldine Farrar as the man-eating gypsy. Now, Farrar was not only one of the greatest sopranos and MET legends of the early 20th century, her beautiful appearance and excessive acting talent also enabled her to build a career as a Hollywood actress.

Beverly Sills was born on 25 May

Beverly Sills was born in Brooklyn as Belle Miriam Silverman. Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Odessa and Bucharest. As a child, she spoke Yiddish, Russian, Romanian, French and English. Although she had an enormous repertoire, that ranged from Handel and Mozart to Puccini, Massenet and Verdi, she was best known for her interpretations of coloratura soprano roles. Her radiant high D’s and E-flats sounded seemingly effortless and natural.

José Carreras became  76 at 5th December

About just few of his many roles

Sara Scuderi was born 11 December

Scuderi sang in the most important theatres of the day, both in Italy and abroad, most notably in the Netherlands! She had a contract at La Scala where she received high praise for her interpretations of the most well-known operas.

Rita Streich 18 december

High coloratura soprano is one of the most admired voice types. It’s only logical, because what these ladies do falls a bit into the category of “nightingale on a trapeze”.

And November 22th it was  it was  five years that Dmitri Hvorostovsky died, only 60 years old

But, but…. I made an article about King David and music

King David…. One of the Bible’s most inspiring and appealing personalities. But did he really exist? We live in a time when all sorts of things are being doubted, and that is alright.

And in Dutch

La Bohéme…. something from the old days

NEW YORK live

First, attention for two live recordings from the New York Met: from 1947, under Giuseppe Antonicelli and from1958, conducted by Thomas Schippers. Both were released on Sony some time ago and both are well worth listening to.

Bidú Sayão 1947



Brazilian Bidú Sayão was considered one of the most beautiful sopranos at the Met, and not just literally. Her voice is feathery light and reminiscent of women’s voices in the old movies from the early days of the “talking movies,” which definitely suits the role of Mimi.



Personally, I prefer rounder voices with slightly dramatic undertones, but this really makes me happy. Combined with the young Richard Tucker, she sounds very delicate and needy. Giuseppe Antonicelli’s conduction is fast-paced (Sony 74646762)



Below Richard Tucker, Bidu Sayao, Mimi Benzell and Frank Valentino in the quartet “Dunque e proprio finita” from the third act:



Licia Albanese 1958



A warning is in order: the sound is not great. It is sharp and dull and occasionally the radio waves are humming rebelliously, but it also has something quite endearing. As if a time machine takes you back to the afternoons of yore, when the whole family settled down in front of the radio to listen to the latest invention, the live broadcast.

The performance, too, is old-fashionedly delicious. Not that the voices are all that exceptional, apart from Carlo Bergonzi who is at his finest, the other roles could have been better cast.

Licia Albanese (almost fifty by then, which is not at all audible) was a real crowd pleaser, especially in New York. Thomas Schippers conducts very vividly (Sony 8697804632)

STUDIO



Victoria de los Angeles 1956


Do you want to cry, from the very beginning? If so, you have come to the right place. Thomas Beecham really does his best to make the RCA orchestra sound a little detached, but the musicians are real human beings and they have no reservations concerning true love. Completely unashamedly, they allow all feelings, including a healthy dose of sentimentality. So you may cry all you want to!

The first meeting between Rodolfo and Mimi already… his ‘così’ when pouring his ‘po’ di vino’ and then her ‘grazie, buona sera’…. Folks, anyone here who doesn’t instantly forget about the rest of the world has no heart!

Jussi Björling is a dream Rodolfo: sensitive, sensible, sweet and so damn attractive! That Victoria de los Angeles (Mimi) falls for him we can’t blame her for, after all, so do we. But we grant him to her wholeheartedly because of her voice, it is so terribly beautiful that it almost hurts. As if she were the Madonna herself who has her extinguished candle lit by her neighbor. In which we conveniently forget that she probably blew out the candle herself. That, then, is the only downside of the recording: Mimi was no Madonna.

For the rest: a must. Also because of the irresistible Marcello by Robert Merrill (Naxos 8.111249/50)




Maria Callas 1956



This recording will not go with me to the “desert island.” It is not because of the conductor, nor the splendidly playing orchestra from La Scala: Antonino Votto conducts smoothly and excitingly and his attention to all the details is truly brilliant,

Rolando Panerai (Marcello) and Giuseppe di Stefano (Rodolfo) are a match for each other, their voices suit each other excellently, although I find di Stefano a bit on the screaming side at times. I also like young Anna Moffo’s very sensual Musetta. The problem – at least for me – lies with La Divina.

Mimi is not a role with which we associate Callas, and rightly so. She has therefore – wisely enough – never sung her on stage. No matter how hard she tries (and she really does!) nowhere does she manage to convince me that she is a poor seamstress, her voice is just too regal for that. Frantically she tries to keep her voice small which makes her sound quite artificial. But I’m sure her fans would disagree with me.

The recording still sounds surprisingly good (Warner Classics 0825646341078)




Renata Tebaldi 1958



Actually, I also find Tebaldi’s voice a bit too heavy for Mimi, a tad too dramatic too, but there is no denying that her interpretation is very exciting. You have to keep listening to it.

Carlo Bergonzi is an insanely beautiful Rodolfo; secretly, I think he is the real star of the recording. Ettore Bastianini is a very charming Marcello, but Gianna d’Angelo is not a beautiful Musetta. Her singing has nothing sensual and is vulgar at times.

Tulio Serafin conducts more than superbly and the orchestral sound is brilliant. Remarkable actually how wonderful that recording still sounds! (Decca 4487252)






Cesira Ferrani



Would you like to know what the first Mimi sounded like? You can. Cesira Ferrani who created the role in 1896 recorded two minutes from Mimi’ in 1903 (Creators’ Records SRO 818-2).

Cesira Ferrani (Mimi) and Evan Gorga (Rodolfo) at the premiére 1 februari 1896



It still sounds surprisingly good, thus we know that Mimi’s soprano was very light, but far from soubrette. Ferrani was also the first Manon Lescaut, Micaela and Melisande, so you can suspect some deeper things under the veneer of an “innocent” girl. As it should be.


Also on Spotify, are a few of her recordings taken from The Harold Wayne Collection and released on Symposium. Here, in addition to “Si mi chiamamo Mimi,” you will also find “Donde lieta usci. And – a real oddity! – an aria from Lohengrin sung in Italian.






Moonstruck



And then there’s (go ahead, it’s almost Christmas anyway) one of all-time’s greatest feel-good movies: Moonstruck.

The story itself has little to do with the real opera, except that the main characters attend a performance of La Boheme at the Metropolitan – it’s good old Zeffirelli – after which we fast-forward to the movie’s happy ending. But in that scene, we too, along with both protagonists are allowed to shed a few tears. The fact that Puccini’s music resounds not only at the credits but also throughout the film is a nice touch.

Trivia: the old man (Loretta’s grandfather) is played by Feodor Chaliapin junior, the son of the great Russian bass.

Scene in the opera. The voices you hear are those of Renata Tebaldi and Carlo Bergonzi.

La Bohème: few of my favorite recordings on DVD

Mirella Freni



Many opera lovers will probably agree on one thing: one of the best Bohèmes ever is the 1973 version recorded by Decca under von Karajan. With Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti.



Rodolfo has always been Pavarotti’s calling card. For years he was considered the best interpreter of the role – his fantastic legato, the smoothness and naturalness with which he sang the high notes are truly exemplary. Incidentally, as befitted a typical Italian tenor of the time, he sang the end of “O soave fanciulla” at the same height as the soprano. Not prescribed, but it was tradition!

Freni was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful Mimi’s in history. Tender and fragile, with her heartbreaking pianissimi and legato arches she managed to move even the greatest cynics to tears.

Von Karajan conducted theatrical and passionate way, with ample attention to the sonic beauty of the score. As the Germans would say “das gab’s nur einmal.”

In 2008 we celebrated not only Puccini’s 150th birthday, but also von Karajan’s 100th. Moreover, it was 35 years since the famed conductor recorded La Bohème: a cause for celebration! And lo and behold – Decca has released the opera in a limited deluxe edition (Decca 4780254). On the bonus CD, Mirella Freni talks, among other things, about her relationship with von Karajan and about singing Puccini roles. It is really fascinating.

Arias and duet from the first act:



Mirella Freni made her debut as Mimì at the Metropolitan Opera in September 1965. Her Rodolfo was another debutant: the (how unfair!) nowadays almost completely forgotten Italian tenor Gianni Raimondi. For me, he is preferable to Pavarotti. I find his voice more pleasant and elegant. And he could act!
Freni’s and Raimondi’s renditions were captured on a wonderful film, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and conducted by Herbert von Karajan. An absolute must (DG 0476709).

“O Soave Fanciulla” with Freni and Raimondi:




Renata Scotto



History was made with La Bohème from the Met in 1977 (DG 0734025): it was the very first direct transmission from the New York opera house on TV. The production was in the hands of Pier Luigi Pizzi, who at that time was not yet obsessed with excessive ballets and the colour red.



Although I was never a big fan of Pavarotti, I cannot deny that he produces a fresh sound here and that his high notes stand like a house. Acting was never his cup of tea, but here he does the best he can.

It becomes really exciting when Mimì enters: in 1977, Renata Scotto was at her unprecedented peak. She spins the most beautiful pianissimi and her legato and mezza voce are so beautiful they make you want to cry. The rest of the cast is no more than adequate, but the young James Levine conducts as if his life depended on it!

Scotto sings ‘Si mi chiamano Mimì’:



Musetta was not really a role with which we associate Scotto. Neither did she herself, but she accepted the challenge with both hands. In the Zeffirelli Met production of 1982, she sang a Musetta to die for. Alongside the very moving José Carreras and Teresa Stratas, she was the undisputed star of this recording (DG 073 4539 9).


Scotto as Musetta:


Cristina Gallardo-Domâs



Sometimes I wonder how perverse it is when people pay a lot of money to go see, dressed in fur coats, the misery of freezing poor artists?



I myself took great pleasure in the sight of all those fur-wearing audiences on my way to a performance of La Bohème at La Scala in 2003 (Arthouse 107119). The then 40-year-old Zeffirelli production was altered a bit, but the beautiful, realistic sets and brilliant lighting remained the same. The snowflakes, the light radiating from the inn that warmly colors the white earth, the snowy bench and Mimi’s tear-stained face: there is something magical about it all and it is more like a movie than a performance in the theater. It cannot leave you unmoved, all the more so because all the protagonists are truly superb.

Cristina Gallardo-Domâs is a delicate, emotionally torn Mimì. Her lyrical soprano is a bit reminiscent of Freni. Malcero Ãlvarez convinces with a (then still) beautifully lyrically sung Rodolfo and Hei-Kyung Hong, clearly inspired by Scotto, portrays a kitschy Musetta. Bruno Bartolletti conducts lively, without shying away from sentiment.

Below, ‘O soave Fanciulla’ with Gallardo-Domâs and Ãlvarez



Gallardo-Domâs was also present in Zurich two years later. With this very realistically staged Bohème, Philippe Sireuil made a thunderous debut at the Zürich Opera House (EMI 3774529). Don’t expect Zeffirelli-like scenes with snowflakes drifting down, however.

Sireuil’s conception is very “down to earth” and as such more veristically faithful than any other production known to me. With great love of detail, he draws the lives of the foursome of artist friends: their attic is tiny and stuffy, and their struggle to better themselves is life-like. The costumes (second-hand clothing from thrift stores) is contemporary, yet timeless at the same time.

Whatever Mimì is suffering from (it is surely not tuberculosis – the director doesn’t even allow her to cough) doesn’t really matter, although it seems to be drug related. Like a sick bird (how much she resembles Edith Piaf!) she slowly slides into the abyss, and her death forces the others to really think, for the first time. The third act, set at a gloomy train station, is particularly strong and painfully poignant.

The entire cast, headed by a movingly beautiful Marcello Giordani and a very virile Michael Volle (Marcello) in addition to the heartbreaking Gallardo-Domâs, is also outstanding. The much lamented László Polgár  sings Colline. Believe me: this La Bohème is really not to be missed.

Below, Marcello Giordani and Michael Volle in ‘Marcello finalmente:



Cheryl Barker



Back in time a little, to Sydney, Australia, 1993. For the first time I saw the production on TV (yes, kids: once upon a time there were the days when an opera was simply broadcast live from an opera house on TV!) and not soon will I forget that night. I didn’t know any of the singers; it was the name of the director (Baz Luhrmann) that drew my attention to the production.



The singers were mostly young – a plus, since the opera is about young people in love. They could sing, too, and with their looks of real movie stars, they could have been on the movie screen. Strange really, that, apart from Cheryl Barker (Mimì), no one had a great career. That Luhrmann was obsessed with opera is also confirmed by the film buffs: his Moulin Rouge is a direct look alike , including the red-lit “L’amour” on the rooftop. (Arthaus Musik 100 954)


Scene from the production:


Ileana Cotrubas



But, hand on heart, if I had to go through life with only one recording of La Bohème … I would choose John Copley’s 43-year-old production made for the Royal Opera House.

My “desert island recording” was captured on DVD in 1983 by NVC Arts (Warner 4509 99222-2) and – no matter how many times I watch it, I never get tired of it. And still, after all those years, it always makes me cry. Some things never age.

 Neither does the cast : Ileana Cotrubas as my beloved Mimì, the irresistible young Neil Shicoff as Rodolfo and Thomas Allen as a very erotic Marcello.

‘Saint François d’Assise’ by Olivier Messiaen in three audio recordings

SEIJI OZAWA

Olivier Messiaen was a very religious man and most of his works revolve around the Christian faith. For his only opera, about St Francis, he also wrote the libretto, which he considered his personal declaration of faith and a kind of testament. This was at least as important to him as the music itself. He worked on it for seven years; the premiere took place in 1983, in Paris.

The performance, with José van Dam in the lead role and conducted by Seiji Ozawa was released on CD, on the Cybélia label, unfortunately the recording is very hard to find these days. YouTube offers solace, there you can listen to some of it (with images!).



Below is a fragment:

LOTHAR ZAGROSEK


Two years later, in 1985, the opera was presented (albeit greatly shortened) in Salzburg, conducted by Lothar Zagrosek and featuring Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Francis, Rachel Yakar as the Angel and Kenneth Riegel as the Leper. It was broadcast live on ORF, and then released on Orfeo (C485 982).

KENT NAGANO



In 1998, ‘Francis’ returned to Salzburg, this time complete. Kent Nagano (when he was still Ozawa’s assistant he had once rehearsed the opera under Messiaen himself) conducted, and the lead role was performed by the now very grown-up José van Dam, seconded by Dawn Upshaw (the Angel) and Chris Merritt (the Leper).
The opera was recorded live during the performances and released on four CDs a year later, so we now have the only complete performance of this wonderful work on CD. (DG 4451762).



This recording is also on You Tube:



The performance is a very solid one. Chris Merritt does not possess the most beautiful voice in the world, but he doesn’t have to. He is supposed to come across as vulnerable and plaintive, and he succeeds superbly. Kenneth Riegel on the Orfeo recording is perhaps slightly more impressive, but you’re not going to buy the opera for one scene, though I myself like to have that recording alongside it.

Dawn Upshaw is a radiant, mercurial Angel, more esoteric than Rachel Yakar on Orfeo, and otherworldly beautiful. Fiescher-Dieskau had already retired in 1985, but agreed to rehearse the role of Francis (well, half of it). The result is certainly not bad, but for me it is very lacking in idiom, and he does not even come close to matching van Dam’s performance.

The music is very pleasant to listen to and it exudes a certain serenity, which cannot be attributed to the influence of the Gregorian chants alone. Occasionally reminiscent of Debussy’s Peleas and Melisande, Poulenc also comes quite close.

And Messiaen would not be Messiaen without the frequent use of the ondes Martenot (played on both editions by his sister-in-law, Jeanne Loriod), and without the chirping of birds.


Saint Francois d’Assis is an opera that lends itself beautifully to listening to on CD. It is a true masterpiece, but when it plays in the background only you will still enjoy it. You can read the synopsis, occasionally watch the dialogues (which may also be read beforehand, nothing much is happening anyway) and then you know it all. You can fold the laundry and listen to it just fine. Or just sit an

A brief summary about Cheryl Studer in some of her best roles

SALOME BY MASSENET: HERODIADE



Orchestrally, this recording is really top-notch. Michel Plasson conducts the orchestra from Toulouse very energetically, with a lot of verve and drive, and he also knows how to allow space for all the subtleties. Exciting and beautiful. That is how I like to hear opera.

José van Dam is an impressive Phanuel and Nadine Denize an excellent Hérodiade., although her intonation is not always pure.

Hérode is not really a role for Thomas Hampson, but he sings it very beautifully. Something that unfortunately cannot be said of Ben Heppner’s Jean. A heroic tenor in that role is nothing but a terrible mistake.

Cheryl Studer, on the other hand, is a Salomé of everyone’s dreams: girlish, innocent and naive. Her voice shines and sways and her final words “Ah! Darned Queen, if it is true that your cursed loins have given birth to me, look! Take back your blood and my life!” leave you shuddering and desperately weeping. Brava.

STRAUSS:

SALOME


I realise that many of you will not agree with me, but for me Cheryl Studer is the very best Salome of the last fifty years. At least on CD, because she has never sung the complete role on stage (DG 4318102). Like few others, she knows how to portray the complex character of Salome’s psyche. Just listen to her question ‘Von wer spricht er?’ after which she realises that the prophet is talking about her mother and then she sings in a surprised, childishly naive way: ‘Er spricht von meiner Mutter’. Masterly.

Bryn Terfel is a very virile young Jochanaan (it was, I think, the first time he sang the role), but most beautiful of all is Giuseppe Sinopoli’s very sensual, wide- sounding conducting.


ELEKTRA



This stage production from Vienna (Arthaus Musik 100 048) 1989 is more than extraordinary. Harry Kupfer’s direction is extremely gripping and terrifying, and although he is very realistic in his approach, he limits himself to the directions in the libretto.

The scene is dominated by grey in all its shades and is particularly dark. The only colour in the performance looms when Chrysotemis, at her heartfelt cry that she wants to live and bear children, rips open her blouse and reveals a red vest.

Eva Marton (Elektra) is exceptionally convincing: moving in her longing for her father, repulsive in her contempt for her sister and terrifying during her confrontation with her mother.

Cheryl Studer is a splendid Chrysothemis. With her slightly sweet, lyrical, yet still exceptionally powerful soprano, she can portray a very strong character: her Chrysotemis is a girl disappointed in life with a strong desire to escape, but without the decisiveness to actually bring it about.
Also phenomenal is Brigitte Fassbänder in her portrayal of the mentally ill queen, plagued by nightmares and guilt. Both the mother and her two daughters would be on Freud’s couch in no time – talk about hysterical women!
Franz Grundheber is an exemplary Orest and Claudio Abbado conducts with an intensity that borders on the impossible.




FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN


In 1992, Solti conducted a complete performance of the work in Salzburg. Götz Friedrich’s direction was considered particularly strong at the time, but I do not find it entirely satisfactory. The mise-en-scène is undoubtedly excellent, but it fails with the direction of the characters, causing the singers to run from place to place in a rather awkward way.

The stage design is beautiful with very minimalist but realistic sets, but the costumes are a bit bizarre at times. There is a lot of use of strobe lighting, which combined with violent musical passages may come across as rather violent.

Cheryl Studer is a dream of an Empress. Her voice, with its very recognisable timbre and beautiful pitch, is soaring, transparent almost, innocent and erotic at the same time. Thomas Moser is an attractive Emperor, perhaps a tad too light for the role, causing him occasional breathlessness and pressed notes, but his singing is fine.

Marjana Lipovšek is a truly phenomenal Amme. What that woman has at her disposal in terms of colour nuances and how she handles her (very warm) mezzo borders on the miraculous. In the process, she is also a gifted actress; I couldn’t take my eyes off her. (Decca 0714259)

WAGNER

TANNHÄUSER



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 Tannhäuser (DG 4276252) in 1989. And then it happened: I became addicted.

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.


DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER



This CD recording from 1998 (DG 4377782) is particularly dear to me. First of all because of Cheryl Studer, at the time probably the most beautiful Senta one could imagine. Her wonderfully lyrical soprano with its easy and sensual height seemed made for the role.

The Holländer is sung here by Bernd Weikl. Not really the youngest anymore and you can really tell, but still very suitable for the role. Peter Seiffert is a splendid Steuerman, and in the role of Erik we hear none other than Plácido Domingo, a luxury!

But best of all is the orchestra: under the truly inspired leadership of Giuseppe Sinopoli, the Orchester der Deutsche Oper Berlin performs in a really magnificent way.




On Tannhäuser in non-obvious recordings

PLÁCIDO DOMINGO



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.

RICHARD CASSILY 1982



In those years there was a lack mainly of good tenors and that can be clearly heard on these two DVD – recordings. Otto Schenk’s insanely beautiful 1982 production, recorded at the Metropolitan Opera in New York (DG 0734171) dates from 1977. If you like very realistic, lavish sets and ditto costumes (I do) you can have a lot of fun with this. Just about the entire Venus grotto from Schloss Neuschwanstein was recreated for the opening scene, and the ballet presents us with a truly orgasmic Bacchanal.


The orchestra, conducted by James Levine, plays mostly lyrical and light, there is nothing to criticise at all. Eva Marton is a fine Elisabeth, Tatiana Troyanos a wonderfully sensual and seductive Venus.

Bernd Weikl, one of my favourite baritones sings an irresistible Wolfram, although he messes up his great aria by trying to give his (in principle) lyrical voice too much volume, making his voice unsteady.

And although the Landgrave (John Macurdy) is really terrible, I would not have had a problem with that recording, provided … yes … provided the tenor had not been so awful. The textbook mentions “the very highest standard”, well, I’m not so sure about that. Richard Cassilly is a physically very unattractive Tannhäuser with a pinched voice and a total lack of lyricism, giving the impression of having wandered into the wrong opera.

Arrival of the guests at Wartburg:



RICHARD VERSALLE 1989



Even worse is the 1989 recording (Euroarts 2072008) from Beyrouth. Wolfgand Wagner’s direction is mainly symbolic, thus everything takes place in a circle (circle of life? Seasons? Panta Rhei?) and already during the overture the pilgrims are walking around the stage.

The costumes are not particularly flattering to the singers, which is particularly merciless for poor Cheryl Studer (Elisabeth). Her breathtakingly sung evening prayer is of a touching beauty. Both Hans Sotin (de Landgraaf) and Wolfgang Brendel (Wolfram) are undoubtedly excellent, but yes, again, there is no good leading role.


Richard Versalle as Tannhäuser:




Richard Versalle is not much like a young man obsessed with (physical) love. There is also little of his dichotomy between the earthly and the heavenly. His voice is not pretty and devoid of any charm. A macabre fact: the fact, that his name has not yet been forgotten owes it to his death: during the premiere of Vec Makropoulos (MET 1996), he fell from a ladder, stricken by a heart attack, just after singing the words “You can only live so long”.

Trailer of the production:




In both of the above recordings, Messrs Tannhäuser and Wolfram are continuously walking around with harps, on which they ‘accompany’ themselves at the appropriate moments. That imaginary pinging should be banned, it’s so fake!



PETER SEIFFERT 2003 (for fans of Jonas Kaufmann)



The in itself nicely designed production from Zurich (once EMI 5997339) is suffering from the highly irritating TV direction, it really seems as if the TV director has taken over directing. The ‘manager of images’ likes close-ups, so that during Elisabeth’s prayer we look at the clarinetist’s fingernails. Or we are being zoomed in on Tannhäuser’s sweat-covered forehead. He also finds it necessary to film the singers behind the scenes, which very much disrupts the romance and the magic.

Once you get used to it, there is undoubtedly much to enjoy. The stage setting is beautiful, the colourful costumes – apparently from the early twentieth century – are handsome, and Jens-Daniel Herzog’s character direction is fine. But what makes this production especially worthwhile are the vocal contributions of the singers.

Isabelle Katabu is an extraordinarily beautiful and sensual Venus, darkly coloured and highly erotic. Solveig Kringelborn’s Elisabeth sounds especially pure and lyrical as does her appearance. At the time, Peter Seiffert was one of the best Tannhäusers, both vocally and as a actor. Torn between the sensual and the spiritual, he chooses the higher, which can only result in death.

Nice detail for his many fans: the small role of Walther is sung by none other than Jonas Kaufmann. Only: we don’t get to see him, as during his aria the camera focuses on the faces of Tannhäuser or Elisabeth. Incidentally, I think that recording is now sold out, but yes: fans will remain fans, won’t they?

http://www.operaonvideo.com/tannhauser-zurich-2003-seiffert-kaufmann-kringelborn-kabatu-trekel/



ROBERT GAMBILL 2008



That Nikolaus Lehnhoff can direct Wagner in a very beautiful way, yes, we already knew that. Already in his earlier productions for Baden Baden he showed that modern staging does not have to produce weird images, and that concepts are not necessarily ridiculous. This Tannäuser, previously seen in Amsterdam, is also exceptionally successful (Arthaus Musik 101 351).

Lehnhoff emphasises Tannhäuser’s search for the balance between the physical and the spiritual by creating a world where tradition goes hand in hand with innovation. He builds on a discrepancy (but also a symbiosis) between innocence and evil, and between art and kitsch. Thus, the singing competition degenerates into a kind of glorified form of ‘Idols’, and Tannhäuser’s symbolic ‘redemption’ is painfully beautiful and effective.

Trailer of the production:



Musically, too, there is little to complain about. Robert Gambill sings a particularly moving Tannhäuser, his ‘Rom-Erzählung’ cutting through the marrow. Camilla Nylund is a beautiful, somewhat understated Elisabeth which makes her unapproachable and Waltraud Meier is a Venus out of thousands. Only with Roman Trekel do I have a little trouble. There is nothing wrong with his carrying, solid baritone, but for Wolfram I still opt for a bit more warm lyricism (Hermann Prey, where are you?).

Hermann Prey sings ‘O du mein holder Abendstern’:




BACK IN TIME



About ten years ago, budget label Walhall reissued two historic recordings of Tannhäuser on CD. These are respectively. the 1949 Berlin performance conducted by Leopold Ludwig (WLCD 0145), featuring Ludwig Suthaus (Tannhäuser), Martha Musial (Elisabeth) and a very young Fischer-Dieskau (Wolfram); and a performance from the MET (WLCD 0095), conducted by Rudolf Kempe in 1955, with, excluding a not very idiomatic Astrid Varnay as Elisabeth, a selection of the greatest singers of the time: Blanche Thebom, George London, Jerome Hines and Ramon Vinay.

George London sings ‘O du mein holder Abendstern’:




In both cases, the sound is entirely acceptable and the performances are of a standard that seems very hard to reach these days.

Leopold Ludwig on Spotify:



Rudolf Kempe on Spotify:




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Handel’s Alcina: it’s about sex, isn’t it? Discography

Dosso Dossi (1479-1542): Alcina

“Well, it’s about sex, isn’t it?” In her introduction to the 2011 Alcina, recorded by Arthaus Musik in Vienna, American thriller writer Donna Leon argues that (we didn’t know this, of course) virtually all operas are about sex, whether it’s Der Rosenkavalier, Madama Butterfly or Dido and Aeneas. With Alcina, the story from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, set to music by Handel, taking the crown.

Yearning for (young) male flesh, the sorceress, once she is bored, transforms her victims into wild animals and sets out to find new food for … no … not for the soul. Until she herself finally falls in love, which will be her downfall. One could almost feel sorry for her!

The DVD recording from Vienna is exceptionally fine, thanks in part to director Adrian Noble. Unlike other operas by Handel, Alcina contains a lot of ballet music, something that is seamlessly integrated into the beautiful and atmospheric staging.




ANJA HARTEROS



Anja Harteros is an outstanding Alcina. Her ‘Regina sei tradita’ is followed by a very well-deserved applause. Kassarova is completely in her element as Ruggiero, Adam Plachetka is a delightful Melisso and the young German tenor Benjamin Bruns convinces as a hot-tempered Oronte.

But my heart is stolen by the boy soprano Alois Mühlbacher. The boy is absolutely peerless in the role of Oberto searching for his missing father. Highly recommended!

Below ‘Ah! Mio cor’ by Anja Harteros:



ARLEEN AUGÉR



Many Handel fans claim that nothing can rival the 1986 EMI (now Warner 50999 0880212) recording under Hickox, starring the unforgettable Arleen Augér. I can agree with this sentiment, as the voice of the soprano, who died far too young, is unearthly beautiful.





Della Jones (Ruggiero) and Kathleen Kuhlmann (Bradamante) are also absolutely irresistible, but the rest of the voices don’t really appeal to me. A pity, because I really like the tempi. Although I must admit that virtually the same cast in 1990 under William Christie sounds much more exciting
Below, Arleen Auger and her version of ‘Ah! Mio cor’:



RENÉE FLEMING


In 1999, William Christie recorded Alcina live for Erato. Renée Fleming is a matter of taste, especially in the role of Alcina. But Susan Graham is a wonderful Ruggiero and Natalie Dessay perhaps the best Morgana ever. And Kathleen Kuhlmann once again gets to show why she is one of the most beautiful mezzos in history.





JOAN SUTHERLAND



The fact that the opera has become so incredibly popular and has been performed so very frequently in recent decades is largely thanks to Joan Sutherland. Back in 1957, she brought Alcina to life in London and directed by Zefirelli. Unfortunately, we do not have a video recording of it, but La Stupenda sang and recorded the role several times afterwards and there are many both official and pirate recordings of it in circulation.


Personally, I have a soft spot for the 1959 live recording (DG, made to mark the 200th anniversary of Handel’s deat

h), not least because of Fritz Wunderlich, who sings the role of Ruggiero. Last but not least, Dutch soprano Jeannette van Dijck sings the role of Morgana. And believe it or not, the Cappella Coloniensis, led by Ferdinand Leitner, is already playing on authentic instruments. In 1959!






The score has been considerably shortened. Thus, pretty much the entire role of Oberto has been dropped. And yet… opera is mostly about voices, isn’t it? And Sutherland’s ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’ and Wunderlich’s ‘Mi lusinga il dolce affetto’ are simply second to none. (DG 4778017)

Below Joan Sutherland:





Almost all about Les Dialogues des Carmélites: part 4

There are those operas that you just can’t spoil and Les Dialogues des Carmélites is one of them. For Poulenc, melody is the centre of the universe. His music is so poignantly beautiful and his composition so expressive that you don’t really need a director.

The opera’s themes are sacrifice, martyrdom, revolutions and ideologies, but those are just the side lines, because the main theme is an all-devouring fear that makes it impossible to live or die: “Fear is a terrible disease. I was born of fear, in fear I live and in fear I shall die. Everyone despises fear, so I am condemned to be despised.


Paris, 2013



You just never know with Olivier Py, though I have to say that, apart from the awful Romeo et Juliette in Amsterdam, most of his productions are usually excellent. So too his Dialogues des Carmélites, recorded in Paris in 2013.

Patricia Petibon is a singer with a tendency to exaggerate, but here she is perfectly matched as Blanche. Watching her, I involuntarily get visions of Edith Piaf. Which of course suits the role very well: a small, skinny, frightened bird.

Her timbre is close to that of Denise Duval, but she lacks her carrying power and – mainly – her lyricism. Still, there is no denying that the role of Blanche is more or less tailor-made for her.

Sophie Koch is a strange choice for Marie. She looks far too young and lacks the confident superiority and power of persuasion so characteristic of the role. And the contrast with Lidoine (a wonderful Veronique Gens) is not great enough. Rosalind Plowright is an excellent Croissy and Sandrine Piau a delightful Constance.

Py uses the orchestral interludes to showcase religious scenes, including the evocation of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. Sometimes a little “too much”, but the last scene, with the dark starry sky, brings a lump to my throat (Erato 0825646219537).

Here is the trailer:





Film adaptation


Did you know that the story of Dialogues des Carmélites was filmed in 1960? In the film you can see, among others, Jeanne Moreau as Mère Marie and Pascale Audret as Blanche.
Below is the last scene: