Lulu by Wedekind and Alban Berg. A mystery? A phantom?

Who is Lulu? What do we know about her? Does she really exist or is she nothing more than a fantasy?

Wiedekind als Dr.Schön en zijn vrouw Tilly als Lulu in’Der Erdgeist’ ©Bildarchiv EFWFrank

A portrait of her is painted in the first act, which then runs like a thread through the whole opera, much like the portrait of Dorian Gray. Whatever happens to Lulu, her portrait remains unchanged.

Alban Berg was quite obsessed with her character, taken from Wedekind’s plays Der Erdgeist and Die Büchse der Pandora.

Hanna Fuchs

This may also have had to do with his personal life. She might be the personification of Czech Hanna Fuchs, Berg’s last great love. But there are also music psychologists who want to see Berg himself in Lulu

Berg and his wife

Berg did not finish his opera: when he died in 1935, the third act consisted only of sketches.

It was the Austrian composer Friedrich Cerha who orchestrated 1979’s unfinished third act; until then, only the first two acts were being performed.


Teresa Stratas

You simply cannot live without the very first recording of the complete opera with the third act, as it was finalized by Cerha. Deutsche Grammophon made a studio recording in 1979 immediately after the Paris premiere (DG 4154892).

All fantastic Lulu’s notwithstanding, no one can match Teresa Stratas. Even without the textbook, you will not only clearly hear but also really understand every word. Robert Tear is a delightfully naive painter and Franz Mazura an unrivalled Dr Schön. Kenneth Riegel’s Alwa is a matter of taste, but his empathy is just about perfect.

Pierre Boulez’s seemingly cool and analytical approach makes the drama sizzle even more.

You can also watch the complete recording with Stratas on YouTube:

Anneliese Rothenberger

The recording made by EMI in 1968 (91233028) should really not be missing from any collection. Anneliese Rothenberger is a very light, bouncy Lulu, truly an innocent girl.

Forget about Gerhard Unger (Alwa), but Toni Blankenheim’s surprisingly light and sarcastic Dr Schön (Schigolch with Boulez) is really irrisistable.

What makes the recording extra desirable is Benno Kusche in the small role of Tierbändiger. The recording itself also sounds surprisingly good.

Ilona Steingruber

Ilona Steingruber’s name does not ring a bell these days, but in her time she was a celebrated soprano, whose repertoire included Mahler, Korngold, Strauss and Alban Berg.

On the 1949 recording directed by Herbert Häfner (including Archipel Desert Island Collection ARPCD 0540), Steingrubber sings a very sensual Lulu: erotic and exciting in her singing and remarkably childlike in the dialogues.

Otto Wiener is a very authoritarian Dr Schön and Waldemar Kmentt a not very idiomatic but very present Maler. The confrontation between the two, ‘Du hast eine halbe Million geheiratet’, is therefore particularly exciting.


Evelyn Lear

With her movie-star looks and angelic voice, Evelyn Lear has been referred to in the press as ‘Elisabeth Taylor meets Elisabeth Schwarzkof’. Personally, I find the American soprano, very popular in the 1960s to 1980s, much more interesting than her German colleague.

Lear was one of the greatest and best advocates of modern music. On 9 June 1962, she sang the role of Lulu in the first Austrian production of the work, at the newly reopened Theater an der Wien.

I can imagine that the posh premiere audience may have been a bit surprised to see a prima donna dressed only in a tight-fitting corset and fishnet stockings, but if so, nobody showed it.

It was directed by the then very young Otto Schenk, who followed the libretto closely. That Paul Schöffler (Dr Schön ) reminded me of Professor Unrath from Der blaue Engel is, of course, no coincidence. Nor is his resemblance to Freud.

The last scene, beginning with Geschwitz’s plea followed by images of Jack the Ripper, could just as well have been taken from one of the best Hitchcock films. Especially since Gisela Lintz, who sings the role of the Countess, looks a lot like one of the director’s beloved actresses.

Watching Karl Böhm conducting is also extremely exciting. I have never seen him gesticulating so violently. An absolute must (Arthaus Musik 101 687).

Julia Migenes

I have never understood why Julia Migenes wasn’t allowed to sing ‘real’ operas more often. She was a big star on Broadway and she triumphed in several musical films, but to my knowledge, apart from Lulu, she has performed very few other opera roles on the stage. Both her appearance and acting are so formidable that one can readily forgive her for not always singing cleanly.

Franz Mazura is a phenomenal Dr Schön. In the scene where he writes the farewell letter to his fiancée, you can almost smell his sweat. What a performanc

As Geschwitz, the now older but still gorgeous Evelyn Lear is convincing in every way. John Dexter’s very fine production was recorded at the Metropolitan Opera in 1980 (Sony 88697910099).

The complete recording can be viewed here:


Agneta Eichenholz

This totally unadorned production by Christof Loy was recorded at London’s Royal Opera House in June 2009. Loy has stripped the opera completely and reduced it to its pure essence, something I find very fascinating.

His minimalist approach allows all attention to be paid to the characters, their motivations and their development. Whatever you think of the direction: musically it is spot on. Antonio Pappano really works wonders with the orchestra; you will rarely hear this music so transparent and at the same time so emotionally charged.

Klaus Florian Vogt cannot really convince me as Alwa, but Jennifer Larmore is an exceptionally attractive Geschwitz. And Agneta Eichenholz (with her big eyes pretty much the reincarnation of Audrey Hepburn) is a beautiful Lulu in every way. Michael Volle is for me, after Franz Mazura, the best Dr Schön (Opus Arte OA 1034 D).

Below is an excerpt from the production:

Patrizia Petibon

I am not a fan of Patrizia Petibon: I find her posturing is rather irritating. Her voice is also on the small side, so she often has to force it. Not conducive to the very high and difficult notes Berg has his lead singer sing. I also find her physically ill-suited for the role. She is not a ‘Lolita’, but an adult whore dressed like a little girl with ditto behaviour.

I also have trouble with Geschwitz (Tanja Ariane Paumfartner, an unknown to me), but the rest of the singers are more than excellent, with the unsurpassed Michael Volle as the inimitably good Dr Schön.

Thomas Piffka is an outstanding Alwa, unmistakably a composer who is constantly working on his opera. Pavol Breslik is a horny Maler, Grundhebber a fantastic Schigolch and Cora Burggraaf a sparkling Gymnasian.

Vera Nemirova’s production (Salzburg 2010) is colourful and highly expressionistic. Marc Albrecht is a perfect conductor for the work: under his direction, the Vienna orchestra shows its very best side (Euroarts 2072564).

Below the trailer:

Mojca Erdmann

Whoever came up with the unholy idea of having an unknown and unremarkable composer (have you ever heard of David Robert Coleman?) recompose Lulu for this production in Berlin in 2012, I don’t know, but I am not at all grateful.

Only the third act was adapted, because they dared not touch the real Berg. At least… the prologue has been scrapped, which totally ruins the opera. In its place we get a man, lying down quoting Kierkegaard: “Alles Erlebte tauche ich hinab.” Well well…??

Andrea Breth, by now on my no-no list of directors shows her worst side here. The production is deadly dull. Neither the ethereally singing Mojca Erdmann, nor the scorching Deborah Polaski, nor Michael Volle or Thomas Piffka can undo this cruel murder of a masterpiece (DG 0734934).

For Massenet on his birthday: a small survey of some of his operas

Jules Massenet was the most prolific and, artistically as well as commercially, also the most successful French opera composer between 1870/71 and World War I, the belle Epoque of the Third French Republic. He is best known for his operas, of which he wrote more than thirty. The two most frequently staged are Manon and Werther



Jules Massenet’s Manon has, since its now legendary performance starring Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon (Berlin, April 2007), become a real hype. Anyone who had ever seen the performance could sincerely ask, like Verdi’s Ford (‘Falstaff’): ‘e sogno o realta’?

It was a reality that turned out to be a dream after all, as Netrebko found a new love, leaving Villazon with heart and voice problems. It was also not entirely clear until the last day of rehearsals whether he would sing the, scheduled for June 2007, performances of Manon in Barcelona.

He did come, and although he sang below his usual level, he managed to completely convince everyone with his acting and (sometimes a little too) intense commitment. His Manon is brilliantly portrayed by a spectacularly singing and acting, Lulu-like, Natalie Dessay.

Manuel Lanza is a fine Lescaut, but for Samuel Ramey, a singer I greatly admire, Comte des Grieux unfortunately comes too late in his career.

The mise-en-scène and character direction by David McVicar, for me still really one of the best contemporary directors, were more than excellent. The costumes were beautiful to behold and the (traditional) staging was often really surprising, all the more so as McVicar managed to give it a contemporary twist from time to time.

As a bonus, you do get a ‘peek inside’. Through a truly fascinating documentary, you can follow the stars during their rehearsals with McVicar.


In 1902, ten years after the premiere, Massenet produced a new version of his Werther, this at the request of Italian baritone Mattia Battistini, who was eager to sing the lead role. Massenet did not change the key, but rewrote the vocal lines of Werther’s music, making the arias, ‘Pourquoi me réveiller’ included, barely recognisable.

The “baritone version” of the opera was and remains an oddity; no original manuscript of the score even exists. In recent times, with its penchant for ever new challenges, there was also an increased interest in alternative versions of well-known operas. The baritones, tired of singing the villains, are rediscovering the repertoire, in which they can release all their lyrical melancholy.

Thomas Hampson has always been an explorer of lesser-known paths and he first performed the role of Werther back in 1989. In 2004, he sang a concert performance of it at the Paris Chatelet, and that performance has been released by Virgin on two DVDs. He does an excellent job, but the manic-depressive is a bit off.

His Charlotte is sublimely sung by Susan Graham, who also performed the role in Amsterdam some years ago, where she moved the audience and press to tears. Michel Plasson has all the drama at his fingertips as you can hear.

“Pourquoi me réveiller” by three tenors

Alain Vanzo :

Sergei Lemeshev in Russian:

Jonas Kaufmann:

Piotr Beczala:



Who does not know ‘Méditation’, the sentimentally sweet but oh-so-beautiful piece of violin music? Most often it will make you cry.

Méditation in Josef Hassid’s performance:

However, not many people have ever heard, let alone seen, the opera in which this piece acts as a kind of interlude in the second act.

Recordings of the complete work are still scarce, I only know of three myself (with Anna Moffo, Beverly Sills and Renée Fleming), of which the one with Sills, Sherrill Milnes and Nicolai Gedda (Warner 0190295869069) is dearest to me.

Below Beverly Sills and Sherrill Milnes in the final scene of the opera:

DVD from La Fenice

Pier Luigi Pizzi’s production from La Fenice had previously been released on CD and I found it particularly strong musically and mainly vocally. I was therefore particularly curious as to whether the visuals added anything to it on Dynamic’s DVD. To which I can now say a resounding “yes”.

The sets are sparse, yet the stage seems to be completely full of them. Because of the colours (with very predominant red) perhaps, but also because of the dominant place they occupy on stage. For instance, Thaïs’ rose-covered bed, on which she – as if she were the Venus of Urbino or one of the versions of Danaë, also by Titian – lies very voluptuously. This bed is very prominently in the centre of the stage.

In the third act, when the fun life has ended and the penance begins, the roses are nowhere to be seen (a bed of thorns?) and her posture is as chaste as her white robe.

The costumes are a story apart: very opulent, oriental and barely concealing. Eva Mei doesn’t go as far as her colleague Carol Neblett, who went completely out of her clothes in New Orleans in 1973, but her see-through little nothing of a dress, from which her breasts keep escaping almost unnoticed, leaves nothing to the imagination.

Perhaps she was inspired by the very first Thaïs, Sybil Sanderson, whose breasts were also ‘accidentally’ visible during the premiere performance in 1894? Then again, it is all about the greatest (and most beautiful) courtesan in Alexandria!

Eva Mei is very virtuoso and very convincing as Thaïs . So is Michele Pertusi as Athanael. There is a lot of ballet, though. Also where it really shouldn’t be, which is very distracting at times.

Thaïs from Toronto: unearthly beautiful orchestral playing

Recordings of Thaïs are still scarce so any new releases are more than welcome. Especially if the performance is good, and this new recording on Chandos most certainly is. At least: to some extent.

The Toronto orchestra sounds so incredibly beautiful that you cannot help falling in love with it. Sir Andrew Davis truly extracts the impossible from his musicians: I have not heard the score performed so beautifully before. The pianissimi, the way they manage the quiet passages to perfection, the subcutaneous tension. Hats off! Hats off also to the violinist who manages to add new layers to the ‘Meditation’. So beautiful!

Unfortunately, the singers lag a bit behind. Erin Wall is a beautiful soprano with a crystal-clear voice, but a ‘Whore of Babylon’? More like a rather childishly naive girl.

Joshua Hopkins has the right voice for Athanael but he goes the wrong way when it comes to ‘earthly desires’. Andrew Staples is a good Nicias but he too fails to fully convince me.


A fairy tale has its own rules. Much is interchangeable, but what must never be compromised is the “happy ending”. So: the ugly duckling becomes a beautiful swan and Cinderella becomes a princess. All evil spirits are punished and we can sleep peacefully.

Sometimes I pray to those I don’t really believe in: give us back our fairy tales, because these days everything has to be totally true to nature and as realistic as possible. Fortunately, my prayers are sometimes heard and so it came to pass that I was able to enjoy an old-fashioned evening; with my cat on my lap and Cinderella on my screen.

Laurent Pelly is undoubtedly one of the best contemporary directors: he puts a modern spin on everything he does, but he stays true to the libretto and the music. In the process, his staging is extraordinarily witty. As is the delightful Cendrillon, recorded at London’s Royal Opera House in 2011.

I no longer need to recommend Joyce DiDonato (Cendrillon) to anyone – she is easily the greatest ‘zwischenfach singer’ of our time. Ewa Podleś is a more than delightful stepmother and Alice Coote the most charming ‘Prince Charmant’. And to this you may add the truly idiomatic conductor (Bertrand de Billy)….
Life really can be beautiful sometimes

Trailer of the productie


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.

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

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)

 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:

Reneée Fleming 1994

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

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

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.

Der Köning Kandaules oftewel de les in hoe je het geluk niet met iedereen moet delen

In 1938 vluchtte Zemlinsky naar New York. In zijn koffertje bevond zich de onvoltooide opera Der könig Kandaules. Eenmaal in New York, hoopte hij op de uitvoering in de Metropolitan Opera.

André Gide

Het op het toneelstuk van André Gide gebaseerde libretto ging over een seksschandaal dat een heel koningshuis aan het wankelen heeft gebracht en het einde van een hele dynastie btekende. Volgens de Griekse historicus Herodotus gebeurde dit in Lydië in de 7e eeuw v.Chr., toen koning Kandaules rondbazuinde dat zijn vrouw zo mooi was en wilde zijn geluk en de schoonheid van zijn vrouw met iedereen delen.

Door de koning aangemoedigd en door een onzichtbaar makende ring geholpen, brengt Gyges, zijn geliefde lijwacht een nacht door met de koningin. Als zij achter de ware toedracht komt, spoort zij Gyges aan om de koning te vermoorden waarna hijzelf tot koning wordt gekroond.

Herodotus: : “Er zijn voor jou nu twee wegen aanwezig, Gyges, ik geef jou de keuze welk van beide je wil inslaan. Want ofwel moet je Kandaules doden en krijg je mij en het koningschap van Lydië, ofwel moet je dadelijk zelf sterven zonder meer, opdat je voortaan niet meer zou zien wat je niet mag zien door Kandaules in alles te gehoorzamen. Maar het is werkelijk nodig dat ofwel degene die dat bedacht heeft omkomt (gedood wordt) ofwel jij die mij naakt bekeken hebt en gedaan hebt wat niet gebruikelijk is.” (Wiki)

Het libretto bleek te gewaagd voor het Amerikaanse publiek en toen Zemlinsky in 1942 stierf, was zijn opera nog steeds onvoltooid.

Antony Beaumont

Het was pas de Engelse musicoloog én Zemlinsky-biograaf Antony Beaumont die het partituur voltooide. In oktober 1996 werd de opera in Hamburg uitgevoerd, met enorm veel succes. De uitvoering werd live opgenomen en op het label Capriccio (600712) uitgebracht.

De uitvoering onder leiding van Gerd Albrecht is zonder meer uitstekend en de hoofdrollen zijn met James O’Neal (Kandaules), Monte Pederson (Gyges) en Nina Warren (Nyssia) zeer adequaat bezet. In de kleine rol van Nicomedes horen we een jonge debutant, Mariusz Kwiecień.

In 2002 heeft Salzburg de opera op het programma gezet en de fenomenaal bezette, live opgenomen uitvoering werd in een zeer verzorgde uitgave op 2 cd’s uitgebracht (Naïve 3070). De rol van Kandaules werd vol overgave gezongen door Robert Brubacker en Wolfgang Schöne was een uitstekende Gyges. De Zweedse Nina Stemme, die toen nog in het lyrische ‘fach’ zat, zong een mooie Nyssia. Het Deutsche Symphonie Orcherst onder leiding van Kent Nagano klinkt zeer spannend.

Deel 1:

Deel 2:

Onze onvolprezen ZaterdagMatinee heeft de opera in november 2007 concertante uitgevoerd, helaas bestaat er geen opname van. Jammer, want de dirigent Bernhard Kontarsky dirigeerde met veel overgave en Stuart Skelton en Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet waren onvergetelijk als de koningspaar.

Gyges (of was het Zemlinsky zelf?):  „Der, der ein Glück hält, soll sich gut verstecken! Und besser noch, sein Glück vor Andern“.

Schreker’s ‘Die Gezeichneten’: discography

Alviano: photo from the premiere in Frankfurt 1918 via Green Integer Blog

The idea came from Zemlinsky. He wanted to compose an opera about an ugly man – his obsession – and commissioned the libretto from Schreker. After finishing his work, it was hard for Schreker to give up his text. Fortunately, Zemlinsky abandoned the opera so Schreker started to compose himself.

Zemlinsky, Schoenberg and Schreker in Prague 1912

Like Der Ferne Klang, perhaps his best-known work, Die Gezeichneten also deals with the search for unattainable ideals. Alviano, a deformed rich nobleman from Genoa, dreams of beauty and perfection. On an island he has ‘Elysium’ built, a place where he hopes to realize his ideals. What he doesn’t know is that the noblemen abuse his island: they are engaged in orgies, rapes and even murders.

The title of the opera is ambiguous. Not only are the main characters ‘marked’ (Alviano by his monstrous appearance and Carlotta by a deadly illness), Carlotta also makes a drawing of Alviano, in which she tries to capture his soul.


This beautiful opera, with its thousands of colours and sensual sounds (just listen to the overture, goosebumps!), is being staged more and more nowadays. In 1990 it was performed at the Saturday Matinee, with an ugly singing but very involved and therefore very vulnerable William Cochran as Alviano and a phenomenal Marilyn Schmiege as Carlotta (Marco Polo 8.223328-330).


In 1994, Decca (4444422) recorded Die Gezeichneten in the ‘Entartete Musik’ series. I am not particularly enamoured with either the orchestra or the soloists, but, like Marco Polo, it is complete.


I am not very enthousiastic about Helmut Krebs in the lead role of Alviano: while his timbre is beautiful, his height is pinched. The roles of Carlotta and the sadistic seducer Tamare are perfectly cast by married couple Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart.

American baritone Stewart was a highly celebrated Wagner singer at the time, famous for his Wotans and his various interpretations of Amfortas. Lear was often compared to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, I myself find her way of singing more natural and pleasant. Her beautiful appearance made her an ideal Carlotta, it is a pity that we have no footage of it.

Evelyn Lear (Carlotta) and Helmut Krebs (Alviano), scene from the second act:

However, it is the wonderful bass Franz Cras who dominates the recording in his role of Duke Adorno.
Initially the sound is on the poor side, but it seems to get better as the opera progresses. Of course, it could also be that you get used to it.

I don’t really like the Norddeutsche Rundfunk under Winfried Zillig. I miss the sensuality, but it could also be down to the recording. The score is, as was usual at the time, considerably shortened. A pity, but it is nevertheless undoubtedly an extremely important release! (Walhall WLCD 0376)

FRANZ SCHREKER 1928 (extracts)

A box set of three CDs (Symposium 1271/1272/1273) on which Schreker can be admired as the conductor of his own works, among others, also includes a few excerpts from Die Gezeichneten, recorded in 1928, with his wife Maria in the role of Carlotta.


In 2005, a widely acclaimed production by Nikolaus Lehnhoff was recorded live in Salzburg and released on DVD (EuroArts 2055298). Personally, I am not unreservedly enthusiastic about it, although I must admit that it is all very spectacular and very excitingly staged.

To begin with, I find the setting (the reclining body of a dead woman, the head separated from the torso, with everybody walking all over her remains) too emphatic and laden with cheap and unnecessary symbolism. I also find the final scene to be in bad taste: nowadays you need a lot more than kidnapped young virgins to shock, so Lehnhoff lets them be emphatically young.

These virgins, including Ginevra Scotti, are no more than 10 years old, so it may really be called paedophilia. Yes, that does indeed come across as shocking, but was it necessary? I’m not so sure about that.

But compared to Kušej’s horribly flat staging at De Nederlandse Opera (thankfully not recorded, but at the same time a shame because of Gabriel Sadè’s wonderfully good leading role), Lehnhoff is of course a hero.

So buy Lehnhoff anyway, because there is undeniably much to enjoy. First, there is the music itself, beautifully and very erotically played by the Berlin Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester under the direction of Kent Nagano. The visuals are beautiful, the colours (with predominantly deep blue) are lovely and the singers/actors, styled after contemporary stars like Johnny Depp and Tom Cruise, are beautiful – after all, everything here is about outer beauty, and Lehnhoff and his team manage to highlight that very clearly.

Robert Brubakker is an endearing Alviano, and although I don’t quite understand why he is put in female clothes at the beginning – he is impressive. Anne Schwanewilms is a beautiful, cool Carlotta, and Michael Volle convinces as the virile Count Tamare.

Extract from the first act:

And the whole opera:

Photos: © Bernd Uhlig  

Let’s talk about Simon Boccanegra! The real one ánd the one from Verdi’s opera.

Possible representation of Simone (or Guglielmo) Boccanegra at the Palazzo San Giorgio (Genoa).

The real Simone Boccanegra was the very first doge of Genoa, and, unlike his brother Egidio, not a pirate at all. It was the Spanish poet Antonio Garcia Gutièrrez who had combined the two characters into one, adding an extra dimension to the story.

The story itself is indeed very complex, but no more difficult to retell than, say, Il Trovatore. Still, the premiere in 1857 was a fiasco, after which the opera disappeared for more than 20 years.

Set design by Girolamo Magnani for the revised Simon Boccanegra premiered at Milan’s La Scala in 1881: A Piazza in Genoa, Prologue. © Bertelsmann. com

In 1880, Verdi decided to completely revise the work, with the help of Arrigo Boito. A golden touch, which also marked the beginning of the fruitful collaboration between the two composers.

Front and back of Edel’s design for Amelia’s costume in Act 1. The illustrated design boards often provided detailed technical indications for the theater tailoring shop regarding cloth types and colors, shoes, headgear, and various accoutrements and decorations © Bertelsmann. com

Boito thoroughly reworked the libretto, created a new finale for the first act (the council scene), and further developed the character of the protagonist. To no avail: until the second half of the 20th century, the opera was only seldom performed and there are still those who consider the work unbalanced and boring. How unjustified!

Costume designs by Alfredo Edel, left: Simon Boccanegra, in the Prologue; middle: Simon Boccanegra, Act 1, Scene 2; right: Fiesco, Prologue © Bertelsmann.com

Personally, I find it one of Verdi’s most exciting and beautiful operas, with a very strong and human story, and the most beautiful bass aria ever (‘Il lacerate spirito’).

Giulio Neri sings Il Lacerato Spirito:

Admittedly, the opera is something of a hybrid with a mix of styles, because in addition to the typical “middle Verdian” music that occasionally strongly reminds one of that of Trovatore, Ballo in Maschera or Rigoletto, there is also a foreshadowing of Otello (second scene of the first act, for instance, when Amelia’s kidnapping is announced). Not a bad thing, because that is precisely what makes the work varied and surprising.

People say the opera is dark, and that’s true. It is also mournful, with mostly melancholic and sad music, and with only one bright spot: ‘Come in quest’ora bruna’, Amelia’s ode to the beauty of sky and sea. But even there the melancholy keeps resonating.

The fact that four of the five male leads are sung by singers with low voices is, of course, also very influential on the musical colours.


The first studio recording of Simone Boccanegra was made by EMI (now Warner Classics 2435674835) in 1957. Under the direction of Gabriele Santini a truly magnificent cast was assembled: Tito Gobbi as Simone, Boris Christoff as Fiesco and Victoria de los Angeles as Amelia. Very beautiful.


In 1973, RCA recorded the opera (RD 70729). Gianandrea Gavazenni conducts in a sluggish way and produces little or no excitement. A pity really, as the cast is excellent. It is one of the first recordings of Katia Ricciarelli, a singer with the lyricism of a nightingale. Her Amelia is so pure, so virginal – a teenage girl really still, eager to keep her little secret to herself a little longer. Nor is her love for Adorno really earthly, though in fact, Amelia is really almost thirty!

Katia Ricciarelli sings ‘Come in quest’ora bruna’:

Piero Cappuccilli is a splendid Simon and Ruggero Raimondi a fine Fiesco. As Adorno, Placido Domingo is a little too dominant and too determined, though his singing is obviously impeccable


In 1971, Claudio Abbado conducted a magisterial and now legendary performance of Boccanegra at La Scala. It was directed by Giorgio Strehler and the beautiful sets were designed by Ezio Frigerio.

In 1976, the production was filmed at the ROH in Covent Garden. Unfortunately, no official (there are ‘pirates’ in circulation) video of it was made, but the full cast did go into the studio, and the ultimate ‘Simone’ was recorded in 1977 (DG 4497522).

Abbado treats the score with such love and such reverence as if it were the greatest masterpiece of all time, and under his hands it truly transforms into a masterpiece without parallel. Such tension, and so many nuances! It is so, so beautiful, it will make you cry.

The cast too is the best ever. Piero Cappuccilli (Simon) and Nicolai Ghiaurov (Fiesco) are evenly matched. Both in their enmity and reconciliation, they are deeply human and always convincing, and in their final duet at the end of the opera, their voices melt together in an almost supernatural symbiosis:

Before that, they pass through all ranges of feelings and moods, from grievous to hurtful, and from loving to hating. Just hear Cappuccilli’s long-held ‘Maria’ at the end of the duet with his supposedly dead and found daughter (‘Figlia! A tal nome palpito’)

José van Dam is an exquisitely vile Paolo and Mirella Freni and Jose Carreras are an ideal love couple. The young Carreras had a voice that seems just about created for the role of Adorno: lyrical with a touch of temper, underlining Gabriele’s brashness. Freni is more than just a naive girl, in her love for Adorno she shows herself to be a real flesh-and-blood woman.


A fine performance of ‘Simone’ was recorded live in Vienna in 1961 (Gala GL 100,508). Gianandrea Gavazzeni is more exciting than on his RCA studio recording, but he cannot match Abbado.


Still, this recording is very worthwhile, not least because of Leyla Gencer’s Amelia. The Turkish soprano was the equal of Callas, only much less fortunate and she had to make do without having a recording contract. Tito Gobbi is an excellent Simone, and there is little to criticise about the rest of the cast either.

Leyla Gencer and Tito Gobbi in ‘Figlia! a tal nome palpito’:


A new (the previous one, with Domingo, Milnes and Tomova-Sintov was directed by Tito Capobianco and released by very hard-to-get Pioneer in 1984) Simone was recorded at the Metropolitan Opera in 1995, directed by Giancarlo del Monaco (DG 0731319).

The staging is very naturalistic, eliciting bravos. The costumes and sets are also overwhelming and elaborate to the smallest details, beautiful to the eye, but not conducive to the drama unvolding. One loses oneself, as it were, in the details.

James Levine, meanwhile, has upped his tempi, and there is a decent pace. The direction is a bit static at first, but gradually it becomes more exciting. Robert Lloyd is a tormented Fiesco, but lacks the deep thirst for vengeance. Domingo is optically a bit too old for Adorno, too confident too, but he can sing like no other.

Kiri te Kanawa is a problematic Amelia: her face has only one expression and she has never heard of character portraiture, but her singing is certainly beautiful. Vladimir Chernov is very strong as Simone, whom he portrays as a kind of Jesus figure in the third act.

An excerpt from the production:


At the Maggio Musicale in Florence (June 2002), Claudio Abbado conducted a superb production by Peter Stein, which had previously been seen in Salzburg. Stein refrained from any updating of the opera, and so it is set in Genoa in the 14th century, including the blue sea and the doge’s council chamber.

The costumes too are in style, exquisitely beautiful and in brilliant colours. So the plebeians (in blue) can be distinguished from the patricians (red). The sets, on the other hand, are very sparse, giving extra attention to the few props – an example of clever manipulation.

Karita Mattila shines as Amelia. She polishes her high notes like gems: hear how her ‘pace’ towers above everything else in ‘Plebe! Patrizi’ in the second act.

Lucio Gallo puts down a vile Paolo and Carlo Guelfi moves us as Simon. Most bravos, however, are for the seriously ill and severely emaciated Abbado. What he manages to elicit from the orchestra, choir and soloists borders on the impossible (Arthaus Musik 107073)

Trailer of the production:


The star of this recording from Bologna (Arthaus Music 101 307) is Michele Mariotti. He comes up, looks around nervously, shakes the hands of a few orchestra members, puts a nervous smile on his face and bites his lips. And then he raises his baton and the spell begins.

I cannot remember the last time this opera was so beautifully conducted, so lovingly and with such élan, spirituality and bravura. Mariotti, born in 1979, graduated cum laude in Pesaro in 2004. His Boccanegra, recorded in Bologna in November 2007, was such a great success that he was immediately appointed as the principal conductor there.

The cast is mostly young. Giuseppe Gipali (Adorno) possesses a ringing tenor voice with an old-fashioned timbre, but unfortunately also with an old-fashioned way of (not) acting. This is much better handled by the beautiful Carmen Giannattasio (Amelia), who reminds me a little of Kiri te Kanawa in terms of tonal beauty.

Roberto Frontali is a convincing Boccanegra, Marco Vratogna a very vile Paolo and Alberto Rota shines in the small role of Pietro. The production is quite traditional, with fine period costumes.

Closing of the opera:

Help! So many Carmen’s! Which one is a real must have?

Poster of the première in 1875

In prehistoric times, when ratings alone were not everything and cultural-loving audiences were still taken into account, television-watching opera lovers also came into their own.

Illustration of Bizet’s opera Carmen, published in Journal Amusant, 1875. The image, held by the Bibliothèque nationale de France, is marked “domaine public”

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


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

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


Something similar happened to me in 2011, when the BBC brightened up a dull Christmas afternoon with an opera transmission from London’s Covent Garden. Orchestrally, this Carmen is slightly less spectacular than Kleiber’s. Antonio Pappano is an impassioned conductor and whips up the Royal Opera House orchestra to unprecedented heights, but this time my knocked-out feeling was caused by the unusually exciting direction and the phenomenal lead performers.

Francesca Zambello does not shy away from a lot of sentiment and provides a blatantly realistic spectacle, without updates and concepts. The action actually takes place in Seville and the eye is treated to a beautiful choreography and stunning costumes.

Anna Caterina Antonacci is a very spunky and sexy Carmen, very defiant but also confident and proud. Her gorgeous black eyes spit fire, and her beautiful appearance and great acting talent do not hide the fact that she can also sing: her powerful voice has a range of emotions. All in all: a real tragédienne. A real Carmen.

Ildebrando D’Arcangelo is a fantastic, virile Escamillo. His entrance on the big black horse is truly spectacular.

Jonas Kaufmann is easily the best José I have ever experienced in my life. His spinto tenor sounds phenomenal in all registers, nowhere exaggerated and lyrical and whispery where necessary. He cannot be outdone as an actor either, and his more-than-attractive looks we’ll take as a bonus. You surely know by now: you must have this Carmen! (Decca 0743312)


Carmen by Bizet, conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner Gardiner… who would have thought it possible? And yet it makes more sense than you think. Because with the 2009 performance, Gardiner brought the opera back to the site of its world premiere and the orchestra played the work with the instruments of that time.

Adrian Noble’s (brilliant!) direction is mainly focused on the characters, the staging is highly illustrative and the libretto is closely followed. It is realistic, beautiful and exciting. The unified décor is adapted to each scene, making you feel like you are actually present in all these different locations.

The voices are on the small side, but I don’t think that was a problem at the time at the Opéra Comique in Paris, let alone on DVD.

Andrew Richards is not the best José ever, but his interpretation of the role is phenomenal. He begins as a nice and very cuddly stranger and ends up as a kind of Jesus, with delusion in his eyes.

Unfortunately, Nicolas Cavallier (Escamillo) does not have enough sex appeal for a macho toreador, but he compensates a lot with his beautiful singing.

Anna Caterina Antonacci is one of the best Carmens these days. Beautiful, sexy, challenging and nowhere vulgar. Her deep, warm voice has all the colours of the rainbow.Gardiner clearly feels inspired. His tempi are dizzying at times.


The 2003 production in Glyndebourne, directed by David McVickar, also looks superb. The stage- set in the first two acts is very industrious. The third act begins foggy, with sparse lighting (the lighting is very ingenious), very cinematic, and very moving. In act IV, you have everything needed to populate Seville: the toreros, the matadors, the beautifully dressed Spanish Doñas and Dons. Breathtaking.

Carmen’s death (her throat is cut in a very bloody way) is thriller-like exciting. Unfortunately, the lead role is played by Anne Sofie von Otter. Because, let’s face it: Carmen is not her thing. In her valiant attempts to still convey something of the Spanish temperament, she degenerates into a vulgar slut. Sin. (OPUS ARTE OA 0867)


Just like today’s movies, opera used to be public entertainment number one. And that for a long time. No wonder, then, that from the very beginning of cinema, much attention was paid to this already well known art form. Carmen, one of the most popular

operas of the time, appealed particularly to the imagination and was filmed as early as 1912 with the prima ballerina of the Opéra Comique, Régina Badet, in the leading role.

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.

The story was  substantially amended, making Carmen a thoroughly bad woman, possessing hardly any subtleties. Everything is black and white, just like the (silent) film itself, but that should not spoil the fun, because there is a lot to enjoy.

The film has been fully restored from DeMille’s personal copy, and the original score by Hugo Riesenfeld has been recreated by Gilian B. Anderson, who also conducts the London Symphonic Orchestra in the recorded soundtrack. As a bonus a few arias, sung by Farrar, have been edited in between scenes. For film and opera lovers alike, this is a veritable monument and not to be missed (VAI 4362).


The most beautiful CD recording, at least to me, is the one with Teresa Berganza under Claudio Abbado (DG 4196362). It was recorded in the studio in 1978, but only after a series of live performances, and it is all the better for that! Ileana Cotrubas (Micaela) and Sherrill Milnes (Escamillo) complete the excellent cast.

Two years earlier, Domingo also recorded the opera in the studio (Decca 4144892), but I am less enthusiastic about it.

Solti conducts superbly and Tatiana Troyanos as Carmen is one in a thousand, perhaps she is even better than Berganza, but José van Dam is no Escamillo and the whole lacks the atmosphere of the theater.

Without a doubt interesting are the performances of the lead role by Victoria de los Angeles and, of course, Maria Callas. And for lovers (and collectors) of historical recordings: Urania (URN 22.378) not long ago released the 1959 performance recorded live in Paris, featuring a seductive Carmen by Consuelo Rubio and an elegant Don José by Leopold Simoneau.

Another one you cannot ignore is the legendary Conchita Supervia’s rendition of the role (various labels).

In 1943, Oscar Hammerstein II adapted the opera into a Broadway musical, Carmen Jones. He moved the action to the present (we are talking about the early years of World War II) in Southern America. The premiere, on 2 December 1943 was a great success, and to think that the entire (black!) cast was making its debut on stage!

A few years ago, Naxos (81208750) released the highlights (recorded in 1944) of the musical, with the bonus of four songs from Otto Preminger’s 1954 film of the same name. The role of Carmen there was played by Dorothy Daindridge, but sung by the very young (20!) Marilyn Horne, then a soprano. Breathtaking

By the way: did you know that the opera’s most famous hit, the Habanera, was not by Bizet at all? It was called El Arreglito and was composed by Sebastián Yradier). Bizet was convinced that it was a folk song and when he found out that it had been written by a composer who had died only ten years earlier, he added a footnote to the score, citing the source.

For Renée Fleming on her Birthday

Bel Canto

When this CD came out in 2010, it was greeted with quite a lot of suspicion, but the combination is really less strange than you think. Nowadays, Fleming is mainly associated with Mozart and Strauss, but her career began with singing (among others) Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini.

Fleming grew up in a musical family; both her parents were singing teachers. It was also her mother, who gave her her first singing lessons. She achieved her first major success in 1988 in Houston, as the Contessa in Nozze di Figaro, but her international breakthrough came in 1993, when she performed Armida at the Rossini festival in Pesaro, a role she subsequently repeated at Carnegie Hall. She has also not only recorded, but also performed scenically, the lead roles in Maria Padilla, La Sonnambula, Il Pirata and Lucrezia Borgia.

“When I started singing, I thought bel canto operas were the foundation of every singer’s repertoire. All the singers I admired then: Sutherland, Callas, Caballé, Sills, Scotto sung them. It was quite shocking to discover that in the professional world of opera there was such a thing as a ‘Mozart/Strauss soprano’, and that that soprano never sang bel canto.”

“If I had to count them, there are seven complete bel canto roles I have sung live. I learnt most of them in the early years of my career, when I often worked with Eve Queler. But I also learnt a lot from Montserrat Caballé. We sang together in Il Viaggio a Reims and we discussed the repertoire many times. Marilyn Horne also meant much to me and I learned my high notes from Joan Sutherland at her home”.

The “Bel Canto” CD is just wonderful. The music is magnificent and Fleming’s interpretations superior. Her creamy soprano and exquisite height may be widely known, but her colouraturas and expressiveness are just as fine. Her fabulous breathing technique allows her to spin out the longest arches into the finest pianissimi.

Philip Gossett is a specialist in nineteenth-century opera. He has worked with Renée Fleming many times before and especially for her he ‘reconstructed’ the ornamentation in the well-known cabalettas, including those from La Sonnambula. The result is very surprising and exciting, although one has to get used to those different notes.


Optically, Fleming is just about the most beautiful Arabella ever. Not just beautiful, but so full of herself: you can see her asking the mirror “mirror, mirror on the wall”, so to speak….
I can no longer ask Strauss, of course, but I suspect she could have been the model Arabella for him. Also her velvety way of singing as if you landed under a down duvet….

Julia Kleiter is a good Zdenka, but Morten Frank Larsen (Mandryka) is simply Danish. He looks Danish and he sings Danish. Too bad, because the direction by Götz Friedrich (Zurich 2007) is extremely exciting.

Below is a scene with Renée Fleming and Julia Kleiter:


Carsen moved the action to Nazi-occupied Paris in 1942, the time of the opera’s creation. The setting is the entire Palais Garnier, including the majestic staircase, the long corridors and the boxes in the auditorium. I assume video technology was used, but I don’t really get how it is done. So it is with bated breath that I watch the Countess, who looks admiringly from her box at her alter ego singing on stage. A truly ingenious invention for the final scene, in which she was originally supposed to sing her long final monologue in front of the mirror.

The opera’s final scene:

It is mentioned at the beginning of the opera that the text and the music are like brother and sister, and so too are the two rivals, the composer Flamand and the poet Olivier; they end up sitting fraternally in the opera’s lounging sofa, looking tenderly at their joint child: a symbiosis of words and notes. An opera.

A better Madeleine than Renée Fleming can hardly be imagined. With her endless legato, her round, creamy soprano and (not least) her scenic presence, she portrays a countess with narcissistic traits: beautiful, self-conscious, aloof and very admirable.
Her brother, portrayed by Dietrich Henschel, is a match for her, and though he does not physically resemble her, his traits betray the family ties.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to choose between the two gentlemen in love, as both Gerald Finley (Olivier) and Rainer Trost (Flamand) look very attractive in their well-groomed suits, and neither their voices nor their acting can be faulted.

Franz Hawlata is a phenomenal La Roche, and the delightful Robert Tear portrays an entertaining Monsieur Taupe.

Anne Sofie von Otter is unrecognisable as the “diva” Clairon – her entrance, with which, accompanied by a Nazi officer, she causes a lot of commotion, evokes memories of the great actresses of the 1940s.

The direction is so brilliant that you simply forget that this is an opera, and not the real world. Everyone moves and acts very naturally, and the costumes are dazzlingly beautiful. Were it not for the occasional, but very prominently portrayed, Nazis, one could imagine oneself in a utopian world of serene tranquillity.

Was this what Richard Strauss’ world looked like back then? Perhaps that was the message? I leave the conclusion to you.

Renée Fleming sings Berg, Wellesz and Zeisl. A must buy!

There is no shortage of recordings of Berg’s Lyric Suite. Both in the version for string quartet and in the version for chamber orchestra: the choices are many. Whether it was Berg’s intention we cannot really know for certain, but we assume it was: the last movement, the Largo Desolato,  may also be sung.

Theodor Adorno, Berg’s pupil and confidant, considered the work to be an almost latent opera and that makes sense. Adorno was one of the few who knew about Berg’s affair with the married Hanna Fuchs, for whom he composed the work. For Berg, Fuchs was not only his lover and muse, but also his Isolde and his Lulu.

It is not the first time, by the way, that the poem by Baudelauire, the source of inspiration for the last part of the quartet, is actually sung. The Kronos Quartet and Dawn Upshaw had already recorded the version in 2003, there is also a recording by Quator Diotima with Sandrine Piau. The “Emerson”, however, offer us both versions: with and without vocals.

The decision to link Berg’s Lyric Suite to the songs of Egon Wellesz is nothing less than genius. Both composers had received their training from Schönberg, who had taught them not only the twelve-tone technique, but also to use a large dose of expressionism. Something you hear very clearly in the cycle Sonette der Elisabeth Barrett Browning.

That the songs are not performed more often is not only strange, but also a great shame. Of course, this has everything to do with the “once forbidden and then forgotten” attitude, which has also been fatal for Eric Zeisl. His short song Komm Süsser Tod makes us long for more: couldn’t there be some Zeisl added to the CD? It’s not the lack of space: at just 56 minutes, the CD is very short.

Renée Fleming’s creamy, cultured soprano and her mannerism fit the songs like a glove. The result is a beautiful cross between Gustav Klimmt and Max Beckmann. The very imaginative and expressive performance by the Emerson String Quartet adds to the overall experience. A must.

Decca 4788399

Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Renée Fleming

The life of an opera star is no bed of roses. You are born with a voice that you then try to mould into an instrument that will always obey you. Throughout your life, you work on your technique, take language and acting lessons and you keep your body in shape because appearance is also very important, especially for a woman. And should you not only be wanting a career but also a family life, then things get tough. No wonder that at some point you start to question what is most important in your life and where your priorities really lie.

In the wonderful documentary by Tony Palmer (the maker of more wonderful documentaries, just think of the film about Maria Callas), Renée Fleming, one of the greatest opera singers of our time, talks at length about her fears and doubts. We see her during rehearsals and performances, we admire her dresses, watch home videos showing an apparently happy family life and wipe away a tear listening to her rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ at Ground Zero.

At the presentation of a new creation from the master pastry chef: a chocolate treat called ‘La Diva Renée’, we get slightly moved. And she well deserves it.

Let’s talk about Mozart’s Idomeneo


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


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.


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


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).


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:


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