discografieën

Alban Berg’s Wozzeck

Wozzeck Buchner
Georg Büchner

The true story of the young soldier Woyzeck, who was found guilty of murdering his girlfriend in 1824 and sentenced to death, inspired the young Austrian Georg Büchner to write his play. The work remained unfinished, Büchner died of typhus in 1837 at the age of 24, and Woyzeck was not staged until 1913. Alban Berg saw the play a year later in Vienna and decided to turn it into an opera. The premiere on 4 December 1925 in Berlin was an overwhelming success.

Wozzeck Alban&HeleneBerg
Alban and Helene berg after the premiere in Berlin

“Fragmentary, hallucinatory and extremely pessimistic’. This is how the play was described and this is an exact description of the opera also. This work – perhaps the most moving opera of the last century – always comes with an unprecedented inaccessability The music is highly expressive and cannot be defined by a single definition: Berg used both dodecaphony and the sweetest violin sounds, and alternated the sprechgesang with melancholic ‘arias’.

Wozzeck Berg met performers van Wozzeck premiere in Oldenburg
(Alban Berg wth the Wozzeck – cast after the première in Oldenburg 1929

Masterpiece or no (for me an absolute masterpiece) everything depends on the performance and there are many.
A selection:


DVD’S:

Hamburg 1970

Wozzeck Blankestein

Under the direction of Rolf Liebermann, the Hamburg State Opera grew into one of the best and most talked-about opera houses in the world. Liebermann ensured a good, thorough and diverse repertoire with extra attention to contemporary works.

Fortunately for those of us who did not experience those years (consciously), Liebermann also thought about the future and commissioned the director Joachim Hess to record about thirteen of his productions for TV. Most of the recordings were made in a studio, but with Wozzeck they went to a castle in southern Germany and also its environs.

The now almost completely forgotten baritone Toni Blankenheim was one of the pillars of the Hamburg opera. He sang numerous roles, but only became truly famous as Schigolch (Lulu), in the production with Teresa Stratas.

His very charismatic appearance, his enormous acting talent and his agile, warm baritone made him more than suitable for singing roles of “complex characters”. A character like Wozzeck. Better than anyone, Blankenheim is pretty much the personification of the “simple soul”; his despair is not played and you can really see the incomprehension on his face.

Sena Jurinac is a beautiful, slightly timid, but very sensual and erotically charged Marie.

Bruno Maderna has never been a champion of conducting other people’s works, but he certainly has a great affinity with Berg’s idiom.

The production is very realistic and the tension is palpable. It is as if you are watching an unadulterated thriller.

Liebermann is now seen as the father of Regietheater (directing theatre), but his vision was quite different from today’s conceptualism and its search for (and often crossing) the boundaries of the permissible and the ridiculous. Anyway: see for yourself. That recording is an absolute must (Arthaus Music 101277)


Vienna 1987

Wozzeck Abbado


This production was my first ‘Wozzeck’ ever. It made me sick; the opera evoked so many emotions and feelings in me. I was most touched by Hildegard Behrens’ performance of Marie. I still find her performance extremely impressive, but now that I know the opera better, I also have some reservations. Now and then I find her a little too much. Too exaggerated in her acting and also in her singing. As if she is challenging the outer limits of her voice. In her creation, she reminds me – don’t take it too literally! – of the Italian actress Anna Magnani, which is actually a great compliment.

Franz Grundhebber portrays an embittered Wozzeck, but one not devoid of pathos.

Heinz Zednik is an unequalled captain and the young Philip Langridge a brilliant Andres.

That Abbado has an affinity with Berg’s music is obvious. He conducts fiercely and compellingly; the tension is palpable from the very first note. And yet the lyricism is never far away.

Can you still remember that magical moment when the curtain opens? You can experience it again here. And then a world that you know from the libretto is revealed: we are in the captain’s room, with, behind the window, a view of what could become a crime scene. And then the lighting! It is so beautiful!

This fascinating production (directed by Adolf Dresen) should be mandatory for any director’s course. If only to show all those aspiring directors that traditional does not automatically mean boring or museum-like (incidentally: there is nothing against that either).

And how young Abbado is here! (Arthaus Musik 109156)

Trailer of the production:


Moscow 2010

Wozzeck Nigl Tcherniakov


I have to be brief about this. After more than four minutes of staring at a kind of doll’s house with lots of boxes, in which all kinds of people playing house and looking bored (televisions were on) – all this accompanied by an orchestra tuning its instruments – I had had enough. But I did watch it for a while because I was quite curious. Unfortunately, I did not get very far.

If you want an evening of exciting theatre with lots of video images and even more music, then this is the DVD for you. However, you do have to forget about Wozzeck, because this production has nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with either Alban Berg’s opera or Büchner’s play. Teodor Currentzis, the darling of Russian audiences, who is famous (and notorious) for his strange tempi, here really lives up to his reputation (BAC068).

CD’S

Berlin Classics 1973

Eterna - Berg: Wozzeck / Kegel, Adam, Schroter, Goldberg, Herbert Kegel |  CD (album) |... | bol.com


This recording, reissued on Berlin Classisc, was recorded live in 1973 during a concert performance in Leipzig (then GDR).

What strikes one immediately is the clarity of sound and the fantastic diction of the singers. Reiner Goldberg (the drum major) has a somewhat “embarrassing” height, which underlines his sillyness as a failed macho.

The truly incomparable Horst Hiestermann (Hauptmann) confirms his reputation as one of the best character actors in history and Helmuth Klotz is delightful as the totally messed-up doctor.

Gisela Schröter is moving as Marie and Theo Adam is a thoroughly tragic Wozzeck, who cannot understand the ‘why’.

The orchestra under the sublime direction of Kegel sounds alternately screeching and loving, exactly as this music was meant to be (0184422BC).


Decca 1981

Wozzeck Wachter


Eberhard Wächter is one of the best Wozzecks I know. His anti-hero sounds resigned and desperate, but also fierce and terrifying. And although his voice sometimes sounds a little unbalanced, his portrayal is solid.

Anja Silja is a wonderfully light, childlike – naive Marie. Very lyrical and clumsy, someone to feel sorry for. She is not a mature woman, more a child who is full of life and looking for challenges.

Heinz Zednik (Captain) sounds even better here than in the Hamburg recording. He does not sing his role as terribly caricatured as many of his colleagues, proving once again that a good character tenor is perhaps one of the most difficult voices to find.

There is nothing but praise for the Vienna Philharmonic; under the inspired leadership of Christoph von Dohnányi, they show that they really know and master this score (4173482).



Warner 1998

Wozzeck Skovhus


Under Ingo Metzmacher, the opera sounds more modern than it really is. Not that it is bad, but it makes it a bit more unapproachable. He does keep the momentum going, which is very beneficial to the tension. And in the scenes with Marie, he keeps the orchestra surprisingly lyrical.

Bo Skovhus should perhaps have waited a little longer to sing his first Wozzeck. He sounds a tad too young and too healthy; fortunately, he is able to camouflage these “flaws” with his excellent voice-acting.

Angela Denoke is, in my opinion, the star, although she is more a cool blonde than an alley cat. Think of Marlene Dietrich in Der Blaue Engel.

I do not listen to this recording very often, for this I blame Chris Merritt’s captain. The amount of ugly notes this man can produce almost borders on the impossible. But this is actually the only real flaw in this splendid performance, recorded live in Hamburg 1998 (6406622).



Naxos 2013

Wozzeck Naxos



Naxos’ 2013 performance recorded live in Houston is also more than excellent.

Roman Trekel’s dry baritone and his nervous singing make him an almost ideal Wozzeck. He relies mainly on his very impressive voice-acting and his intelligibility and his handling of the text are more than sublime. Hats off!

Anne Schwanewilms is an excellent Marie. Perhaps a tad too neat and a little understated, but she is able to compensate for this with her velvety singing.

With the concert performance of his favourite opera, Austrian conductor Hans Graf bid a spectacular farewell to his orchestra. The recording is highly recommended for the orchestral part alone. (8660390-91)



My love-hate relationship with Fidelio by Beethoven

https://basiaconfuoco.files.wordpress.com/2020/07/fidelio18140523.jpg

I have a love-hate relationship with ‘Fidelio’. On the one hand, I think it is a whole lot of rubbish, but on the other hand, I love the overture. And the quartet in the first act – a heavenly piece of music, if performed well.

Harnoncourt (Teldec 4509-94560-2)

Fidelio Harnoncourt cd



I particularly like the recording Nikolaus Harnoncourt made in 1995 with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. Charlotte Margiono is a fantastic Leonore and Peter Seiffert (Florestan) sounds like a young god. Also the young (yes, make no mistake! Don Ferrando is young!) Bo Skovhus sings the noble minister in a very natural way. Sergei Leiferkus (Don Pizarro) is also much more at home here than in Verdi’s operas.

I become a little sad when I see the names of László Polgár (Rocco) and Deon van der Walt (Jaquino) again: Polgár, a much beloved singer (not only in Amsterdam), died suddenly in September 2010. And Deon van der Walt was shot dead by his own father in November 2005 (who says life is not like opera?). The orchestra is very transparent and wonderfully light-hearted, something I enjoy very much.


Barenboim (Teldec 3984-25249-2)

fidelio barenboim


Now you may say: Fidelio light-hearted? I want thunder and lightning! In that case, your choice should be Daniel Barenboim. 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.

Elder (GFOCD 004-06)

Fidelio Eldet

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the 2006 performance, recorded live in Glyndebourne for the Festival’s own label. Anja Kampe made her enthusiastically received debut there as Leonore. And rightly so. Rarely, if ever, has this role been sung with such beautiful lyricism and such fragility, making Leonore even more deserving of our respect for her heroic actions. In the spoken dialogues, moreover, Kampe shows herself to be an outstanding actress.

I am not a big fan of Torsten Kerl (Florestan), but the way he sings his great aria is outstanding. Lisa Milne (Marzelline) has stolen my heart with her lovely soprano and the rest of the cast is also fantastic. Mark Elder conducts the beautifully playing London Philharmonic Orchestra with great intensity.
It is a great pity that the production has not appeared on DVD, because all the reviews praised Deborah Warner’s direction. But even without seeing it, there is still a lot to enjoy.

The packaging is also very attractive: the two CDs are enclosed in a kind of booklet with a hard cover, with, besides the libretto, many rehearsal and performance photographs.

Harnoncourt (Arthouse 107111)

Fidelio kaufmann

On DVD the choice is also quite large and out of necessity I will limit myself to two recordings.

Already in 2004 (!) Jonas Kaufmann sang Florestan, in Zurich, conducted by Nicolaus Harnoncourt. The conductor has changed his vision audibly and the orchestra sounds heavier than on Teldec. He conducts with a firm hand and starts very quickly, only to calm down afterwards. I find it all too measured, too tight … At least it is for me.

Jürgen Flimm directed the film and he gives us, for him, rather realistic images, sometimes maybe even ‘too’ realistic. A fun fact: Flimm also directed and supervised the dialogues for the 1994 Teldec recording.

Lászlo Pólgár is a wonderful Rocco. I doubt if he is a perfect match for the role (physically then), especially with a (very weak) Elisabeth Magnus as his daughter, but just to be able to see that man again!

Camilla Nylund is a rather unemotional Leonore, but Kaufmann is an irresistible Florestan.

Haitink (Opus Arte BD OA7040)

Fidelio Haitink


Again in Zurich, but four years later in 2008, a new production of ‘Fidelio’ (they apparently love it there) was presented. The orchestra of the Opernhaus Zürich is conducted very affectionately by Bernard Haitink, but then again – he has pretty much identified himself with Beethoven’s works.

He has also really thought about it: he finds the ideas behind the music much stronger than any political labels. He doesn’t care about updating, because the music itself is translucent, transparent and warm.

Harking back to the Mahlerian tradition, he puts “Leonore III” in the second act. However, he is a bit on the slow side.

Katharina Thalbach’s direction and Ezzio Tofolutti’s furnishings are very realistic, which is in line with Haitink’s ideas, but the costumes are a bit of everything. The dialogues are somewhat abbreviated, which I do not really consider a lack.

Lucio Gallo is a misfit for me. He portrays Don Pizzaro as an Italian mafia boss, but as the sort you’ll only see in the cinema. It is  all very exaggerated and his voice does not have the right timbre for the role.

Alfred Muff is better suited as Rocco than as Pizzaro four years earlier, but he too has had his day. Melanie Diener (Leonore) sings very adequately, and I have little to say about her acting, but she is not at all convincing as a man!

Robberto Saccà  is a great Florestan. More lyrical than we are used to, but I do not mind that at all. And although he does not look gaunt, his fantastic acting skills are enough to suggest his great suffering. I have also come to appreciate this singer more and more.

Death in Venice: an autobiographical testament?

Death Pears Britten

Britten’s vocal oeuvre is almost inextricably linked to one singer, Peter Pears. For years they were partners in art and in daily life. Britten composed his songs and operas for Pears, and with his voice in mind he made arrangements of English folk songs.

Death in Venice, Britten’s last opera; he was already very ill by then, was also composed for his partner. I am not sure of course, but I think that Britten put a bit more of his own life into it than into his earlier operas. And so it may be strongly autobiographical.

Death all opera's

What do we have to compare it to? Next to my player are two DVDs and a CD. Well, CD… Let’s say CDs, because Decca has honoured one of the great British composers with a box set of all his operas (4756029). The eight-disc second volume also includes Gloriana, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Rape of Lucretia and The Turn of the Screw. Apart from Death in Venice and Gloriana, all of them are conducted by the composer himself.

Death in Venice decca



To say that the 1974 recording is just about the very best imaginable, is, of course, stating the obvious. Not only is it the most exemplary performance imaginable(Peter Pears as Aschenbach and John Shirley-Quirk in all those baritone roles), the recording itself is also insanely good: direct, clear and so authentic that you get the impression it was recorded live. Stuart Badford conducts the English Chamber Orchestra.

TONY PALMER

Death Palmer



The same conductor, orchestra and baritone can also be found in Tony Palmer’s film (TPDVD176), filmed on location in 1980. The role of Gustav von Aschenbach was taken by Robert Gard, a tenor unknown to me, but who really does an excellent job. Although he cannot make me forget Pears.

The film is very realistic and even if it is a bit dated (the typical seventies atmosphere is everywhere), there is no denying that it will keep you on the edge of your seat! The images of Venice are more beautiful than you can imagine, the atmosphere is oppressive and the singer-actors are more than excellent. Besides Gard and Shirley-Quirk, my eyes (and ears!) also focussed on an unnamed singer in the role of the English clerk.

On the box it says that Pears is also involved. I could not discover him, although I thought I heard his voice in the group of extras surrounding the hallucinating Von Aschenbach.



PIER LUIGI PIZZI

Death Pizzi


Venice belongs to this opera, of course. Therefore, a performance recorded in that city appeals more to one’s imagination than one from … (fill in the blank). The production recorded in June 2008 in La Fenice (Dynamic 33608) is definitely special.
Pier Luigi Pizzi always stands for beautiful images and his productions are almost always semi-realistic, but with a twist to both surrealism and symbolism.

In his predilection for ballet, he can sometimes go too far, which is also the case here. The chorus and all the extras, sailors and guests of the hotel are made up of beautifully dressed (or, if you prefer, beautifully undressed) gorgeous dancers. When there is no dancing, there is stylistic walking and aesthetic standing.

It’s like a film and Visconti is never far away – even the famous hat worn by Silvana Mangano as Tadzio’s mother in the movie, has been copied here. But the atmosphere is very oppressive, the heat palpable and the final result very moving.
Marlin Miller deserves an Oscar for his role of the tormented Von Aschenbach. Waving his handkerchief and wiping off his sweat, he tries to maintain some decency, only to finally having to succumb to total madness and delirium. Bravissimo!
His voice is different from Pears’s. It is rounder and more focused, especially towards the audience, which only enhances his intelligibility.

Scott Hendricks is more than phenomenal in all his ‘devilish’ characters. With a sardonic smile and visible pleasure, he helps Von Aschenbach meet his doom.

Bruno Bartoletti succeeds in eliciting the most beautiful sounds from the orchestra of La Fenice.

A slight objection: Tadzio (a stunningly beautiful, it cannot be denied, Alessandro Riga) is optically too old and too sure of himself. Still – highly, highly recommended.

Hänsel und Gretel: Discography

hans-tekening
Das Bild ist ein Holzstich nach einer Zeichnung von Ludwig Richter von 1853.

Fairy tales! As a child I couldn’t get enough of them and I still love them. My small bookcase was well stocked with them then and my current bookcase has several shelves with every fairy tale I could lay my hands on.

The story of the children lost in a dark wood, the wicked witch and – yes! – the gingerbread house particularly appealed to me; a girl who loved sweets.

I knew that the fairy tale had once been turned into an opera. In the old German film adaptation of Kärstner’s The Parent Trap, Luise/Lottie visits the performance of Hänsel und Gretel conducted by her father. This very dramatic scene made a huge impression on me at the time, so the opera was very high on my wish list.
My first real introduction to the opera, however, was downright disappointing. And I still cannot get really excited about the work. It is not sweet or scary enough for me. However, I immediately admit that a beautiful, well sung and acted production will give me a lot of pleasure!

The two DVD recordings known by me are certainly all that, and I really wouldn’t know which of the two to choose


Royal Opera House, 2008

hans-roh



Colour! That is what is most striking about Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s London (Covent Garden 2008) production. The enchanted (and enchanting) fairy- tale forest is green, the sky blue, Gretel’s jacket red, and the biscuits, cakes, pies and puddings are all the colours of the rainbow. Or even more. And they are so very bright!

It is a true feast for the eyes, but the singing is also at the highest level. Diana Damrau is a delightful Gretel and Angelika Kirschlager a boyish Hänsel. Even in the scenes together with real children, they are not out of place.

Elisabeth Connell and Thomas Allen, here as real- life riff- raff, are good for a lot of delicious “schadenfreude”. And the fact that Anja Silja convinces more with her acting than with her singing should be forgiven, she is after all a witch (Opus Arte OA BD 7032)




Metropolitan Opera, 2008

hans-met



Richard Jones’ production, originally created for the Welsh National Opera and recorded at the Met in 2008, is just as much fun.
Chistine Schäfer (Gretel) and Alice Coote (Hänsel) are perhaps just a little more brazen, but Rosalind Plowright and Alan Held are just as deliciously caricatured as Connell and Allen.

What makes this performance an absolute must have is Philip Langridge’s witch, even Anja Silja cannot match that! And the dream pantomime at the end of the first act is simply delicious.

During the overture and the interval, we get a look behind the scenes and get to see the make-up artists in action. Very special!

Vladimir Jurowski conducts very lightly, almost belcantesque.
Warning for purists: the opera is sung in English! (Warner 5099920630898)

Below a short trailer:



von Karajan, Milan1954

hansel-karajan-italiaans



Talking about foreign languages: it is not at all surprising that an opera intended for a mainly young audience is performed in a language they can understand.

In 1954, von Karajan conducted the fairy tale in Italian in Milan, but with two German sopranos in the leading roles: Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Sena Jurinac. Which makes the notion of “intelligibility” immediately relative.

Rolando Panerai is a delightful “Pietro”, but of course the CD’s greatest attractions are the Sand- and Taumännchen sung irresistibly by Rita Streich. The orchestral sound is very refined despite the analogue sound (Date DAT 12314).

https://open.spotify.com/album/5wcO8IrP9pnAzooD82Sdi8?si=jeT_t5W0RtabNBI91BMJdQ&dl_branch=1



Von Karajan, 1953

untitled



Refinement is also the best word to describe the (studio) recording of Karajan from 1953. It is fully worth it for the overture alone. Orchestrally it sounds even better than the Milan recording, but that may be due to the excellent sound quality.

Both Elisabeths: Grümmer and Schwarzkopf sound very credibly childlike. Their ‘Brüderchen , komm tanz mit mir’ is simply irresistible. It is just a pity that their voices sound so similar that you cannot really tell whether it is Hansel or his sister who is singing. (Warner 509996407162)

https://open.spotify.com/album/6NcBtroE4jZdQqV3rrHval?si=A1P5xVzxRAiF7RmPWISh2Q&dl_branch=1




Eichhorn, 1971

hans-rca



There are five reasons to buy the recording Kurt Eichhorn made for RCA in 1971: Anna Moffo (Hans), Helen Donath (Gretel), Christa Ludwig (witch), Arleen Auger and Lucia Popp (the ‘males’).

Charlotte Berthold and Fischer Dieskau are not really exciting and the orchestra is no more than okay, but those five ladies! And secretly I think I may find Helen Donath’s Gretel the most beautiful of all. (BMG 74321 252812)

Below Anna Moffo and Helen Donath in `Abendsagen`:


 Macbeth by Ernest Bloch. Ever heard of?

Ernest Bloch - Visuotinė lietuvių enciklopedija

Ernest Bloch was born into an assimilated Jewish family in Geneva in 1880. Around the age of twenty-five he became interested in all things Jewish and he translated them into his own language – music. “I am interested in the Jewish soul” he wrote to his friend Edmund Fleg (Flegenheimer): cantor, poet, philosopher and  playwright. “I want to translate all that into music”. He succeeded.

But Bloch is more than the ‘Jewish soul alone’. Before the war he was one of the most performed and appreciated composers. People even called him the fourth great ‘B’ after Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. The name Bloch stands for concertos, symphonies, string quartets, piano quintets, violin sonatas, suites for solo strings and songs. And an opera.



Bloch was only 24 years old when he and Fleg came up with the idea to create musical theatre. It was Fleg who thought of ‘Macbeth’. Bloch had his doubts, because he actually wanted to compose something cheerful, but soon he started with the first sketches. It took him five years to complete the opera, but when it was finally done, the boss of the Opéra Comique, the famous Albert Carré, was immediately interested.

We can hardly imagine it now, but at that time Verdi’s Macbeth was almost unknown. It had not yet been performed at the Opéra or the Opéra Comique. The sole performance in Paris had been in 1865 at the Théâtre Lyrique where it was received with very moderate enthusiasm.

ألبرت كاريه - Wikiwand
Albert Carré

Whether Carré’s interest was sincere or whether it was because his Prima Donna, at the time one of the greatest dramatic sopranos, Lucienne Bréval (a compatriot and good friend of Bloch) was so keen to sing it? We will probably never know, but on 30 November 1910 that was it.

Ernest Bloch - Macbeth
Lucienne Bréval als Lady Macbeth


The leading parts were played by the greatest singers of the time, with besides Brevál the Dutch baritone Henri Alber

Albers als Artus in Le roi Arthus van Chausson

Bloch’s opera was performed 13 times in 1910. Reactions and opinions were divided: they ranged from almost ecstatic (Romain Roland was among the greatest admirers) to scathing. In January 1911, there were 15 more performances and that was it. It was not until 1938 that the opera was performed again: curiously, in Naples. Remember: this was in Mussolini’s fascist Italy! There were only two performances: the third was cancelled by the orders of Mussolini himself.

After the war, there was a brief revival; in 1953, ‘Macbeth’ was staged in Rome in the Italian translation by Mary Tibaldi Chiesa. The cast was a real delight: the leading roles were sung by Nicola Rossi Lemeni and Gianna Pederzini; Gianandrea Gavazzeni conducted.

Ernest Bloch en de 'andere Macbeth' | Place de l'Opera
Gianna Pederzini, Ernest Bloch, Gianandrea Gavazzeni en Nicola Rossi Lemeni in Rome, 1953.

Performances in Trieste in 1957 and in Brussels in 1958 (sponsored by Queen Elisabeth, who loved the opera) followed; and after Bloch’s death, Macbeth” was also presented at La Scala.

In April 1960, Geneva gathered the best forces in the opera world to pay tribute to the opera. Heinz Rehfuss and Lucienne Devallier sang the leading roles and the direction was in the hands of Ernest Ansermet. If you ask me: it doesn’t get much more beautiful than this. At least orchestral.

Highlights from the Geneva performance:


In 1968, Rossi Lemeni was allowed to repeat his phenomenal Macbeth interpretation, also in Geneva. His Lady was none other than Inge Borkh, Pierre Colombo conducted. Thanks to YouTube, the whole performance can now be heard in your own home: please do so


I do not know why, but the opera is nowhere as popular as it is in the United States. In 1973, the work was performed in English translation at the Juilliard School of Music under Adler’s direction. Frederic Burchinal (not an unfamiliar name to Dutch opera fans) sang the lead role.

Long Beach Opera presented the opera in 2013 starring the Panamanian “barihunk” Nmon Ford and the production was taken over by the Chicago Opera Theater in 2014. The Manhattan School of Music was the first to present the opera in French in December 2014.

Trailer from Chicago:



And now for the opera itself. The story is very Shakespearean, more so than Verdi’s. It has three instead of five acts, but otherwise there is not too much of a difference.
The music is often described as a mix of Wagner, Mussorgsky and Debussy, but for me, it is mainly Debussy, lightly peppered with a touch of Pizzetti and Bartók (yes, Bartók!). And I also hear reminiscences of Verdi, but of his “Otello”. But Bloch was also ahead of his time, because the great aria of Lady is very ‘Hitchcockians’, especially if you listen to it in the performance of Inge Borkh. Her Lady is terrifying!

Borkh as Lady Macbeth, unparalleled!




Recordings:

bloch-macbeth



As far as I know, there are only two commercial editions on the market. I have them both and both have their merit. The concert performance from Montpellier, recorded live on 26 July 1997 (Actes Sud OMA34100) is conducted by Friedemann Layer who makes quite a bombastic mess of it, but Jean-Philippe Lafont is without doubt a brilliant Macbeth. The role calls for a “French sounding” baritone with an easy and supple pitch, but also with great depth and resonance. The Golaud type. Lafont more than satisfies this requirement.
Merkella Hatziano is to my taste a somewhat too light Lady, but her sleepwalking scene is scorching. The textbook contains the complete libretto, but only in French.

bloch-macbeth-capriccio




The other recording (Capriccio 10889/90) is from Dortmund. It was the very first time the opera was performed in Germany. The live recording from 2001 is far from perfect, but it is atmospheric. And the Lady, sung here by Sonja Borowski-Tudor, is absolutely impressive. There is no libretto, but the synopsis in three languages is very useful if French is not your strongest language!


And speaking of the unknown Bloch, don’t forget his symphonic poem ‘Hiver-Printemps; ! Together with the beautiful song cycle “Poèmes d’Automne” (composed for the texts of Béatrix Rodès, at the time Bloch’s beloved), they form as it were a whole, a kind of ‘Seasons’, with only summer missing. How appropriate!

Hiver-Printemps:

Hérodiade or Salome by Massenet

Herodiade Flaubert
Gustave Flaubert: Herodias. Illustratie Lucien Pissarro

Richard Strauss composed his world hit Salome to a play by Oscar Wilde; and the latter drew his inspiration from a short story by Flaubert, ‘Herodias’. Paul Milliet and Henri Grémont also based their libretto for Massenet’s opera Herodiade on this story. Neither Wilde nor Milliet and Grémont were very faithful to Flaubert. Whereas the French novelist more or less limited himself to the biblical narrative, enriched with his poetic language and descriptions, the playwright and librettists added entirely new aspects and twists to the story.

Hérodiade was first performed in the Royal Theatre of Brussels on 19 December 1881. Anyone expecting animal eroticism, blood and sweat, as with Richard Strauss, will be disappointed. Massenet’s Salome is a truly innocent and devout girl. When her mother left her to marry Hérode, she was given shelter by Jean (John the Baptist), with whom she fell in love. A love that proved to be mutual.

Herodiade - acte I Brussel

No opera is complete without complications: Hérode has a crush on Salome, Hérodiade becomes jealous of her and Jean is beheaded. Salome sees Hérodiade as the instigator of all evil and wants to kill her. Hérodiade whispers “I am your mother” and Salome commits suicide.

The music already exudes a hint of the perfume of Massenet’s later works, but with all those choruses, exotic Oriental scenes and elaborate ballet scenes, it is nothing less than a real Grand Opera in the best Meyerbeer tradition.

One of the earliest recorded fragments of the opera is, I think, the famous aria of Hérode ‘Vision Fusitive’ by the French baritone Maurice Renaud, made in 1908:



And from the recording Georges Thill made in 1927, we know what an ideal Jean should sound like:


REGINE CRESPIN 1963

Herodiade crespin

If you are in possession of this performance, you need look no further. It doesn’t get any better than this. There is only one problem: this recording does not exist. At least not of the complete opera.

In 1963, EMI recorded the highlights of Hérodiade with the best French singers of the time (and of today, for that matter) and the answer to the “why not complete ????” will probably never be given.

Georges Prêtre conducts the orchestra of the Theater National de Paris as if his life depends upon it and every role is more than excellently cast.

Regine Crespin sings ‘Il est doux, il est bon’:


Regine Crespin’s Salomé is unequalled and so is Rita Gorr’s Hérodiade. Albert Lance (Jean) shows how that role should really be sung in the tradition of Georges Thill, and for Michel Dens as Hérode we really cannot find the right words. Such singers no longer exist.


Hopefully, Warner will one day release the recording on CD.


MONTSERRAT CABALLÉ (Barcelona 1984)

Herodiade caballe

This recording also may only be obtained via a pirate (or You Tube), but then it is complete and moreover with (admittedly bad) images!

Dunja Vejzovic portrays a deliciously mean Hérodiade and Juan Pons is a somewhat youthful but otherwise fine Hérode. A few years later, he will become one of the best “Hérodes” and you can already hear and see that in this recording.

Montserrat Caballé is a fantastic Salomé, the voice alone makes you believe you are in heaven and José Carreras is very moving as a charismatic Jean.

Below, Carreras sings ‘Ne pouvant réprimer les élans’:


None of the protagonists is really idiomatic, but what a pleasure it is to watch a real Diva (and Divo)! They really don’t make them like that any more

The whole opera on you tube:



RENÉE FLEMING 1994 (Sony 66847)

Herodiade Domingo fleming



In the mid-1990s, Herodiade enjoyed a short-lived revival. The opera was then performed in several opera houses and it was even recorded – officially – three times: once in the studio and twice live.

I must admit that I was a bit concerned about Gergiev as the director, but he really did an excellent job. Under his baton the opera sounds like a real Grand Opéra, grand, fiery and compelling.

Plácido Domingo (Jean) is perhaps a touch too heroic, but his voice sounds youthful and contageous, worthy of a true prophet.

Personally, I find Dolora Zajick (Hérodiade) a bit on the (too) heavy side, but her singing is undeniably excellent and there is nothing wrong with her interpretation.

Juan Pons is an excellent Hérode, but I would have liked Phanuel (Kenneth Cox) to be a bit more idiomatic. Something that also applies to the Salomé of Renée Fleming: she sings beautifully but in this role she can not totally convince me.



NANCY GUSTAFSON 1995 (RCA 74321 79597 2)

Herodiada wenen


The performance in Vienna was highly praised, and that this praise was justified is proved by the recording made live in the house by ORF.

First of all, there is Agnes Baltsa’s brilliant title role: fierce and dramatic. If you ask me: apart from Rita Gorr probably the best Hérodiade ever.

Placido Domingo sings ‘Ne pouvant réprimer les élans’:



Domingo, in the role of Jean, is even more impressive here than on Sony and also Juan Pons (Hérode) actually convinces me yet more on this recording. His rendition of ‘Vision Fugitive’ is very, very moving. Unfortunately, Nancy Gustafson (Salomé) must acknowledge the superiority of Fleming (Sony), but both pale in comparison to Cheryl Studer (Warner). Not to mention Regine Crespin!

Judging by the photos in the text booklet and the sparse clips on YouTube, we should be glad that the recording appeared on CD and not on DVD.

Finale of the opera:


In any case, the sound is excellent and the Vienna Opera orchestra under the direction of Marcello Viotti plays with great passion.


CHERYL STUDER 1995 (Warner 55983525)

untitled

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.

Tristan und Isolde: kind of discography

tristan August Spieß,
Tristan und Isolde. Wandschilderij van August Spieß, 1881

CD’S

Carlo KLeiber 1982

Tristan Kleiber

Writing a discography of Tristan und Isolde almost feels like being a composer yourself. Not only because there are so many recordings (no less than fifty, eleven of which are on DVD! and those are just the complete commercial editions that are still for sale!, add to that the countless editions of highlights, the pirates, videos on Youtube …. ), but also because it is an opera that will completely drain you emotionally.

But I did my best. I listened for hours to the many Furtwänglers, Böhms and Karajans (and there are many!), dusted off Artur Bodanzky… visited Janowski and Barenboim…. only to conclude, after a few weeks of almost continuously dying hundreds of Love Deaths, that were I to be banished to a desert island with only one recording, it would undoubtedly be the 1982 version under Carlos Kleiber (DG 4775355).

Margaret Price is an unforgettable Isolde. Her silver-like lyric soprano sounds very feminine and pure in its vulnerability. Oh, she is strong too, and determined, but her feminine side prevails. An Isolde to fall in love with.
René Kollo lacks a little brilliance, but otherwise sings a good Tristan. It is a pity about Fischer-Dieskau, his Kurwenal is not really the best, but Kurt Moll is a fantastic Marke and Brigitte Fassbänder ditto as Brangäne.

But the conductor! How wonderful he is! From the very first distant sound to the last chord, with my eyes closed I completely immerse myself in the orchestral sound. Breathtaking. No, more than that: hypnotic.

WILLEM FURTWÄNGLER: LIVE, 1941 – 1947

600168_FurtwŠngler_BOX_.indd

A few years ago, the company The Intense Media released a Furtwängler box set, with live recorded operas on no less than 41 CDs. Apart from one stray Verdi (Otello with Ramón Vinay from Vienna 1951), all are German: Mozart, Gluck, Beethoven and von Weber. And – how can it be otherwise? -, a lot of Wagner, his music is on no less than 24 of the 41 CDs.

Tristan und Isolde are present no less than three times, in fragments from three different performances.

The recording from Vienna in 1943 with Max Lorenz and Anny Konetzni, famous among the diehards, also contains some added fragments with the same cast from 1941. A mistake, of course, but for many still an important document.

I myself have a lot of trouble with this part, which is why I quickly went through it and continued with the fragments recorded in 1947 in the Admiralspalast in Berlin, with a truly excellent Tristan sung by Ludwig Suthaus. There are few basses that can match Gottlob Frick (Marke), Erna Schlüter is a fine Isolde and Margarete Klose a very good Brangäne. The sound is unfortunately not beautiful, but a real Wagnerian does not mind that too much.


WILLEM FURTWÄNGLER: STUDIO, LONDON 1952

Tristan Furtwangler Naxos


Less exciting perhaps, but the opera becomes really inimitably beautiful in the studio recording from 1952 (Naxos 8110321-24). Ludwig Suthaus is here also, but only now do you hear what a fantastic Tristan he was. He was now partnered with an Isolde of his own stature: Kirsten Flagstadt.

The young Fischer-Dieskau is a beautiful Kurwenal, Josef Greindl a brilliant Marke and Blanche Thebom a very attractive, lyrical, Brangäne.

But the orchestra is the most beautiful of all: in this recording, you really hear what a fantastic conductor Furtwängler was! Also remarkable: in the small roles of the sailor and the shepherd you can hear Rudolf Schock…. Yes… those were the days!




HERBERT VON KARAJAN BAYREUTH 1952

Tristan Karajan 1952



I am not such a fan of Martha Mödl singing Isolde. I admire her enormously, though! Her stamina is inexhaustible and her powerful voice can only be compared to a laser beam that cuts mercilessly through all the walls until nothing remains standing. Hurricane Irma is nothing in comparison.

The performance recorded live in Bayreuth in 1952 sounds quite sharp, making her voice seem even louder and bigger than usual. There is a lot to be said for that; no one had to turn the volume up because what you hear is pure nature. Even Karajan and his orchestra cannot compete with her! Legendary, yes, but I hear so little love in her interpretation! This  in contrast to Ramón Vinay’s Tristan, he may be a little less powerful, but he sounds very warm and romantic.

The latter is for me the main reason to cherish the recording, but I also like the rest of the cast very much. Ida Malaniuk is an attractive Brangäne, Ludwig Weber a good Marke and Hans Hotter a somewhat heavy but otherwise beautiful Kurwenal.



DVDs

NIKOLAUS LEHNHOFF GLYNDEBOURNE 2007

Tristan Lehnhoff Glyndebourne


The performance recorded in August 2007, directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff, is in all respects one of the most beautiful Tristans. For the first time in my life, I completely surrendered myself to the opera. Without any regrets, by the way.

Lehnhoff took Isolde’s words: ‘Im dunkel du, im lichten ich’ as the starting point of his staging, and his play with dark and light (and with space!) results in an extraordinarily exciting and beautiful stage setting. The costumes are a kind of mixture of medieval simplicity and contemporary glitter.

Nina Stemme is literally and figuratively the most beautiful Isolde one can imagine. Her creamy, sensual soprano with its many colour nuances sounds like a balm for the soul. All her notes sound natural and effortless, as natural and bittersweet as love itself.

Robert Gambill’s voice may not quite meet the heavy demands of the part, but he portrays a very charismatic and committed Tristan. Katarina Karnéus (Brangäne), René Pape (Marke) and Bo Skovhus (Kurvenal) also sing and act in an excellent manner.

The conductor (an amazingly good Jiří Bêlohlávek) persuades the orchestra to produce the most beautiful colours as he builds up a thriller-like tension. The opera, which lasts more than four hours, is over in no time at all. That is real Art. Highly recommended. (Opus Arte 0988 D)




NIKOLAUS LEHNHOFF ORANGE 1973

Tristan Böhm Orange


In 1973, Lehnhoff directed a then very high-profile production of Tristan in Orange. The production is simple and timeless and, frankly, a little dull.

But the leading roles are sung by the then 55-year-old Birgit Nilsson and Jon Vickers and it is conducted by Karl Böhm, which makes the whole thing a document of note. The picture and sound quality is poor, but that will not deter the true music lover (Hardy Classics HCD 4009).




BARENBOIM AND PONNELLE BAYREUTH 1981

Tristan Barenboim Ponnelle


The performance of ‘Tristan’ in 1981 marked the debut of Barenboim and Ponnelle in Bayreuth. Their collaboration resulted in immense success, and both the audience and the press were wildly enthusiastic. In October ’83, the performance, this time without an audience, was recorded on video (DG 0734321).

Ponnelle’s splendid staging is a fine display of magic realism; with much symbolism, subcutaneous eroticism and dreams, where the real world turns out to be an imagination. The last act takes place in the head of the delirious Tristan: accompanied by Isolde’s Liebestod, perhaps the most beautiful music ever written, he dies in the arms of Kurvenal.

It is the first time I see Johanna Meier, and the encounter is not entirely satisfactory. Admittedly – she looks beautiful, acts well, and I have no complaints about her singing, but it all sounds so artificial … You can almost hear her work so very hard, and I don’t like that. But maybe I am wrong, and there is just no chemistry between her and me? There is no lack of the latter between her and Tristan: a bit dry sounding, but otherwise fine singing, René Kollo. Matti Salminen is irresistible as Marke and Hanna Schwarz is a truly phenomenal Brangäne.
A magical performance.




BARENBOIM AND CHÉRAU MILAN 2007

BLURAY:BLURAY


The opening night of La Scala with Tristan und Isolde directed by Daniel Barenboim and Patrice Chéreau, with Waltraud Meier in the leading role… Yes, that raises expectations. The reviews were not entirely positive, but I was enthusiastic about it, and now that I have seen the production again, I still am.

First of all, there is Chéreau’s intelligent and very humane directing and Richard Peduzzi’s sober but so ‘to the point’ stagecraft. The costumes and sparse sets are very medieval and through small details a suggestion of reality is created. For me, this is an example of how, with the use of tradition, a truly modern performance can be put upon the stage.

The direction of the characters is excellent. Chéreau knows like no other how to turn his theatrical characters into people of flesh and blood. It is not a fairy tale or a legend, everything is actually happening and the ‘everlasting kiss’ does indeed last forever.

Waltraud Meier sings (and acts!) a warm-blooded Isolde, Michelle de Young is a very convincing Brangäne, Gerd Grochowski a formidable Kurwenal and Matti Salminen as Marke is already an icon. But I was most surprised by the then unknown Ian Storey as a solid Tristan (Warner Classics 0825646055005).

The battle for Lucia di Lammermoor is far from won.

lucia-di-lammermoor-by-gaetano-donizetti-score-cover-first-edition-KFRB72



Joan Sutherland, Maria Callas and Beverly Sills

Lucia di Lammermoor has always been, perhaps even more than Norma, a point of contention between the supporters of Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. The performances of both ladies are indeed fantastic and, moreover, totally different. Which of the two should you own? That is not easy. A matter of taste, shall we say?

https://static.lafeltrinelli.it/static/images-3/xxl/106/1413106.jpg


Joan Sutherland is unprecedentedly virtuoso and her coloraturas so perfect that they hurt. And yet I remain untouched by her. Why? Perhaps because it is too perfect? I do not know. It could just be me.


Lucia Callas

Whatever you choose, you really can’t do without at least one Callas. Try Naxos (8110131-32) with Giuseppe di Stefano and Titto Gobbi, under Tulio Serafin, for although Francesco Tagliavini (Warner Classics 2564634081) is a much better Edgardo, the rest of the cast (including Callas herself!) is much stronger here.


Lucia Sills

Personally, I prefer Beverly Sills (Westminster 4712502), especially when it is a choice between studio recordings. Her portrayal unites the best of both divas: the virtuosity, vocal beauty and pure intonation of la Stupenda and the great acting of la Divina. Not really a great tragédienne (but then, neither is Lucia); she is more like a passive girl child who allows herself to be completely overwhelmed. The rest of the cast (Carlo Bergonzi, Piero Cappuccilli, Justino Diaz) is also at a very high level and Thomas Schippers conducts it all with a firm hand . But what makes this recording really special is the use of a glass harmonica in the mad scene, exactly as Donizetti had originally prescribed it.



Renata Scotto

Lucia Scotto

My most beloved Lucia, Renata Scotto, never recorded the role in the studio. There are, however, several pirate recordings of her in circulation, with Luciano Pavaratti, Alfredo Kraus, Carlo Bergonzi and Gianni Raimondi as Edgardo.

Of these four, the recording with Raimondi is dearest to me, not least because of the very energetic and dramatically balanced direction by Claudio Abbado. It was recorded at La Scala in December 1967 and it appeared on Nuova Era (013.6320/21). Unfortunately, this recording is very hard to find.


Below Gianni Raimondi and Giangiacomo Guelfi (Enrico) in ‘Orrida è questa notte…

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/uFSqaucM1BY&#8221; frameborder=”0″ a


Scotto’s interpretation of the tormented heroine is available on DVD (VAI 4418). The production was recorded in Tokyo in 1967. It circulated for years on pirate video, but as the sound and picture quality were particularly poor, the commercial release has made many opera lovers very happy. The sound is a little sharp, making Scotto’s high notes sound even more metallic than usual, but who cares? ‘


Her interpretation is both vocally and scenically at an unprecedented high level. With a childishly surprised expression (my brother does this to me?) on her face, she agrees, albeit not without grumbling, to the forced marriage with Arturo (an Angelo Marchiandi who is hideous in every way).

Below, Scotto sings ‘Il dolce suono’. Who could do it better?!




After her mad scene, you tend to pull the plug, because everything that comes after it can only feel like a cold shower. But you are wrong about that. Edgardo’s two arias, sung by Carlo Bergonzi, will take you straight to (singer’s) heaven.


Afterwards, you can’t help but be a little sad, because where have they gone, yesterday’s singers? Small, tall, fat, skinny, with or without acting talent… None of them was a ballet dancer, but could they sing! And it was through their voices alone that they were able to convey all of the feelings that now require a whole ‘artistic team’. In spite of the cuts that were common at the time, this is an absolute must.

Below, Bergonzi sings ‘Fra poco a me ricovero’
<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/tJT8venvXP0&#8243; title=”YouTube video player”



Patritia Ciofi (French version)

Lucia Ciofi


In 1839, Donizetti adapted his opera for Paris and Lucia became Lucie. It is not the language alone that distinguishes between the two versions, for Donizetti tinkered considerably with both the libretto and the music. Alisa (Lucia’s lady-in-waiting) was cut out of the opera and our heroine remains the only woman in an otherwise purely male company, which makes her even more lonely and vulnerable.


Normanno is now called Gilbert and his role has been considerably expanded. His false play and manipulations make him into a key figure and he grows to almost Iago-like proportions. Arturo has also become more three-dimensional as Henri. And although I miss ‘Regnava nel silenzio’ and scenes between Lucia and Raimondo, I must admit that the French version is dramatically much better.

In this recording (once TDK, hopefully still available), Patrizia Ciofi is nothing less than phenomenal as a rather neurotic Lucie, Ludovic Tézier is superb as a villainous Henri and Roberto Alagna is in his element as Edgar. It was (at the time) one of his best roles.

The director duo Patrick Courier/Moshe Leiser rarely disappoint. Their productions are always realistic, embedded in a historical perspective, but with enough of a nod to the present. Moreover, they do what directors are supposed to do: provide a good mise-en-scène and guide the singers in their performance as to appear convincing.


 THREE LUCIAS OF RECENT TIMES

Anna Netrebko

Lucia Netrebko


Deutsche Grammophon released the Live in HD broadcast of Lucia di Lammermoor by the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 2009 on DVD and Blu-Ray (DG 0734545). Anna Netrebko sang the main role. I never really thought Lucia suited her. Moreover, at that time she was more concerned with showing off than with the soul- searchings of the tragic heroine she portrayed.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/HLHZNm4z1LE&#8221; frameborder=”0″ al

Piotr Beczala is, as always, a fantastic Edgardo, but all the other singers are fine too. All have an individual timbre, so that in the very homogeneously sung sextet you can also recognise the individual voices.
.

Valery Gergiev conducts energetically and really speeds up the orchestra, which sometimes results in breakneck tempi. On the other hand he actually stretches out the ‘mad scene’ (with glass harmonica, bravo!)


Natalie Dessay

Lucia Dessay

Valery Gergiev’s Mariinsky Theatre put its own Lucia di Lammermoor on CD (MARO 512). Natalie Dessay is a gifted artist. She has a beautiful voice of unprecedented height, with which she sings the most difficult coloraturas and fiorituras as if it were nothing. She is also beautiful and can act incredibly well; it is always a pleasure to see her in action.
However, her voice, which is not so big, has its limitations. Scenically, she knows how to hide these through her superb acting, but without visual images, things can go wrong. Which you can hear on this live recording from 2010. Her coloraturas are perfect but empty; they have no substance. This Lucia does go mad but we do not know why. But once she is crazy, she totally makes our heads spin.

Piotr Beczala is, as always, a fantastic Edgardo, but all the other singers are fine too. All have an individual timbre, so that in the very homogeneously sung sextet you can also recognise the individual voices.
Valery Gergiev conducts energetically and really speeds up the orchestra, which sometimes results in breakneck tempi. On the other hand he actually stretches out the ‘mad scene’ (with glass harmonica, bravo!).


Diana Damrau

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/71cVsKQYuIL._SX522_.jpg

 
Diana Damrau, one of the world’s best and most famous sopranos, seems to be perfect for the role of Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor. She sang the part already in 2008 at the New York Metropolitan Opera. Five years later, she delighted audiences in her home town of Munich with her interpretation. The concertante performances were recorded live by Erato, but I am sadly disappointed with the result.


Not that there is anything wrong with Damrau’s coloraturas. They are still impeccable, but to my ears they are empty, without any real substance. In her mad scene, she looks more like the mechanical puppet Olympia from Les contes d’Hoffmann than a woman of flesh and blood.


The male roles are all well cast. Joseph Calleja (Edgardo) sings his role with such ease and flexibility that I am reminded of the young Pavarotti. Ludovic Tézier and Nicolas Testé are perhaps not entirely idiomatic, but their impeccable singing is really not to to be criticized. Even the small role of Normanno is perfectly sung by the excellent Andrew Lepri Meyer.


Jesús López-Cobos’ tempi are remarkable, to say the least. It is stop and go again all the time. Sometimes I do not even recognize the music. It seems as if new embellishments have been added.


The recording itself is also quite unbalanced. It is understandable that the opera could not be recorded in one go, but some things were ‘brushed up’ in the studio and unfortunately we can hear this.

spotify:album:4VSvJjkcO90q0uPKFQ4p3w My top three remains unchanged:
1. Renata Scotto with Carlo Bergonzi, VAI 4418
2. Beverly Sills with Bergonzi, recorded in the studio in 1970 (Westminster 4712502)
3. Maria Callas, no matter which one

Schönberg’s  ‘Gurre – Lieder’

Gurre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEOPOLD STOKOWSKI 1952

Gurre Stokowski

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

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

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

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

SEIJI OZAWA 1979

Gurre Ozawa

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

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

Jessye Norman sings ‘Du sendest mir einen Liebesblick’ :

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



RICCARDO CHAILLY 1985

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

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



ESA-PEKKA SALONEN 2009

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

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



MARKUS STENZ 2014

gurre stenz

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

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

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

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

REINBERT DE LEEUW 2011

Gurre de leeuw

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

Reinbert de Leeuw speaks about the Gurre-lieder:

AND THE WINNER IS: RENÉ LEIBOWITZ 1953

Gurre-Leibowitz

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

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

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



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

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.