English

My first sweet sorrow

The title of this CD, Il primo dolce affanno (The first sweet sorrow) is taken from Benedetto sia ‘l giorno, one of the sonnets by Francesco Petrarca. With this, already, seventh part of the series Il Salotto (The Salon), Opera Rara presents a delightful selection of songs, tunes and duets from the middle to the end of the nineteenth century repertoire. (ORR230)

Bruce Ford sings ‘I’ vidi in terra angelici costumi’:



The three Petrarca sonnets in Franz Liszt’s irresistibly beautiful setting serve as the guiding principle; for the rest, the CD mainly offers unknown compositions by Giacomo Meyerbeer, Camille Saint-Säens, Prince Józef Poniatowski, Federico Ricci, Antonio Carlos Gomes, Antonio Buzzolla and Giuseppe Verdi. And, something to think about: why are these gems hardly ever performed?

Only Buzzolla’s ‘Barcarola’ for three voices is a little disappointing, which may be because of William Matteuzzi’s uncertain intonation.


For the rest, the singers (Elisabeth Vidal, Laura Claycomb, Manuela Custer, Bruce Ford, Roberto Servile and Alastair Miles) are absolutely excellent. They are also exceptionally well accompanied .

Elisabeth Vidal zingt ‘Theme varie for soprano’ van Camille Saint-Saens :

Queen Elisabeth, Leicester and Mary Stuart: history rewritten by Rossini

This opera is perhaps not one of Rossini’s most interesting works, but it is so very beautiful! The story? Leicester, Elisabetta’s lover, makes war in Scotland, secretly marries Matilde (a daughter of Mary Stuart) and takes her and her brother Enrico with him to England. He confides his secret to Norfolk, whom he considers his friend, but the latter betrays him. But it will all work out in the end, and – more importantly – it assures us of more than three hours of vocal pleasure.

It was the first of nine operas Rossini had written for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. It was also his first opera for Isabella Colbran as well as his first opera in which all recitatives were accompanied by the strings.

For the recording by Opera Rara in 2002, a special edition was made from the manuscript. This was the first time that the work was recorded completely.

The scoring is phenomenal. Jennifer Larmore (Elisabetta) and Majella Cullagh (Matilde) are both irresistible. Bruce Ford is a beautiful, lyrical Leicester and Antonino Siragusa a truly sparkling Norfolk. Giuseppe Carella conducts the whole with great inspiration and verve.

And if the overture sounds familiar to you, then you are right: Rossini reused it for Il Barbiere di Sevilla (ORC22).


Almost all about Les Dialogues des Carmélites: part 4

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

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


Paris, 2013



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

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

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

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

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

Here is the trailer:





Film adaptation


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

Almost all about Les Dialogues des Carmélites: part 3

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

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

Hamburg, 2008



The opera came to Hamburg in 2008, it was directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff. His Blanche, Alexia Voulgaridou, is very much like Liu: sweet, scared but steadfast and very impressive.

Kathryn Harries as Madame de Croissy is even more impressive than Anja Silja. She acts not only with her whole body but also with her perfectly used voice. Her fear is physically palpable and her death scene cannot leave anyone unmoved.

Unfortunately, Gabrielle Schnaut’s Mère Marie is not of the same calibre. With the remnants of the once so imposing voice, she only causes irritation: not one note is pure and her terrible wobble feels like torture to your ears. How different then is warm and sweet Madame Lidoine, here sung incredibly lovely by Anne Schwanewilms!

The staging is very simple and there are hardly any sets, which is not at all disturbing. And the final scene is almost better than Carsen. (Arthouse Musik 101494)


https://my.mail.ru/video/embed/9182112244547191280



Munich, 2010



Munich would not be Munich without its ‘high-profile’ new productions that will cause scandals over and over again. Dmitri Tcherniakov’s Dialogues des Carmélites from 2010 was therefore not well received by everyone. I myself find the production very exciting, although his vision sometimes goes a little too far for me.

First of all: forget about the nuns, there are none. There is a community of women, locked up in a glass house. They have left the outside world, but that world can still see them and interfere with them. Claustrophobic.

Blanche, phenomenally sung and acted by Susan Gritton, clearly has mental problems. Her heroic act at the end stems from the same emotions as her fear. Two extremes of the same problem.

The contrast between a resolute, here caricatured a bit as a butch kapo, Mère Marie (a fantastic Susanne Resmark) and the sweet, clearly striving for a different course, Madame Lidoine (Soile Isokoski at her best) could not be greater.

And oh yes: also forget about the guillotine, because it’s not there either. Tcherniakov also changed the ending.

By the way: the chance that the DVD is still for sale is small. The Poulenc heirs thought that Tcherniakov had allowed himself too much freedom and they went to court (BelAir BAC061).


Below the trailer:





Almost all about Les Dialogues des Carmélites. Part one

Almost all about Les Dialogues des Carmélites: part 2

Almost all about Les Dialogues des Carmélites: part 4

Almost all about Les Dialogues des Carmélites: part 2

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

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

Vienna, 2008 and 2011



In 2011, Oehms released a ‘Zusamennschnitt’ of performances of Dialogues des Carmélites, recorded live at the Theater an der Wien in January 2008 and April 2011.

Sally Matthews is a very moving Blanche, girlish but with just enough personality to give her character a bit more body. Occasionally whiny too – Blanche to the full.

Deborah Polaski is irresistible as Madame de Croissy and Michelle Breedt is a more than impressive Mère Marie. Just because of her fantastic achievement it is regrettable that this performance (the wonderful Carsen production!) was not released on DVD!

The ORF Orchestra under Bertrand de Billy plays the stars from the sky. Firm, where necessary, and whisper-soft when needed. (Oehms OC 931)




Milan, 2004


Speaking of Robert Carsen: for me, his production of Dialogues des Carmélites is one of the absolute highlights in the history of De Nationale Opera in Amsterdam.
In February 2004, the production was filmed at La Scala but I am not entirely happy with it. My disappointment mainly relates to Dagmar Schellenberger’s performance as the lead role.

Admittedly, it is not easy to emulate the unforgettable Susan Chilcott (she died in 2003 of breast cancer, only 40 years old), and Schellenberger indeed cannot not do it. In the beginning  her strong tremolo and her not always pure notes are irritating.. But as the opera progresses, she gains a great deal of credibility, and through her brilliant acting and complete abandonment, she makes the development of her character very tangible. And almost as a matter of course, her singing also becomes more beautiful and softer.

The role of Madame de Croissy is played by one of the best singing actresses of our time, Anja Silja. Her performance is truly breathtaking, and even though her voice is not that steady anymore – it suits the character of an old and mortally ill prioress very well. Her death struggle makes for unprecedentedly thrilling theatre, and it is a great credit to Carsen (and the rest of the cast) that the scenes that follow do not make us lose interest.


Muti conducts with verve and knows exactly how to strike the right tone. He really succeeds in translating the spectre of the revolution and its excesses into sound. He is at his very best, however, in the lyrical, contemplative scenes, and  in his hands the chilling ending reaches a truly blood-curdling climax. Make sure you have a big bag of Kleenex within reach, because you really won’t keep it dry (Arthaus 107315).


Below is the trailer:






Part one
Almost all about Les Dialogues des Carmélites. Part one

Almost all about Les Dialogues des Carmélites. Part one

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

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




Milan, 1957


The world premiere of Dialogues des Carmélites took place on 26 January 1957 at La Scala in Milan, in an Italian translation. The cast reads like a ‘who’s who’ in the opera world, because, ask yourself: were there any bigger names in those days?

Blanche was sung by Virginia Zeani, a singer with a full, large and dramatic voice, that was suitable for both Violetta and Tosca. Marie was played by Gigliola Frazzoni, one of the best Minnies (La fanciulla del West) in history. And Madame Lidoine was given to Leyla Gencer.

With Fiorenza Cossotto, Gianna Pederzini, Eugenia Ratti and Scipio Colombo in the smaller roles, the opera sounded less lyrical than we are used to nowadays, almost veristic even. But that made the dramatic effect even more poignant.

Virginia Zeani and Francis Poulenc, Milano 1957



In The Operatic PastCast, Virginia Zeani talks about Poulenc, the influence the opera has had on her life, her colleagues and the production in Milan.
The entire performance from Milan, fantastically conducted by Nino Sanzogno, is on YouTube. Do not miss it!



Paris, 1957



The Paris premiere of Dialogues des Carmélites followed six months later. On 21 June 1957, the opera, now in French, was presented at the Théâtre National de l’Opéra.
Blanche was sung by Poulenc’s beloved soprano Denise Duval. Duval’s voice (girlishly naive, light, almost ethereal) fitted Blanche like a glove.
The rest of the cast, including Régine Crespin as Madame Lidoine and Rita Gorr as probably the best Mère Marie ever, was also chosen by Poulenc himself


Régine Crespin (Madame Lidoine) in “Mes chères filles”:




The orchestra was conducted by Pierre Dervaux and I can be very brief about him: there is no better. Full stop. (Warner 08256483211)













Between Gina Cigna and Renata Scotto, forty years of Norma in a mini-discography. Part 2

It is perhaps superfluous, but I have to get it off my chest: there is no such thing as objective music criticism. Of course there are criteria, but it is not science: after all, you listen to music not only with your ears, but also with your soul and your heart, and you cannot switch them off. Therefore, do not consider my mini discography as an absolute truth and, as far as possible, listen and judge for yourself.


JOAN SUTHERLAND



Joan Sutherland, like Callas recorded Norma twice (officially). Her first recording from 1965 (Decca 4704132) caused a real sensation. It was the very first recording of Bellini’s complete music, without any cut. Moreover, it was the first recording in the original key (Bellini composed his opera in G, but before the premiere he changed it to F).

In those days, Sutherland was considered the belcanto specialist par excellence. Her voice knew no limits and seemed to be made of elastic. High, higher, highest, and with coloraturas that sound almost inhumanly perfect.


Adalgisa was sung by Marilyn Horne, Sutherland’s alter ego in the mezzo voice. The result is dazzling, but it lacks the necessary drama, all the more so because John Alexander (Pollione) has a beautiful but insipid voice.


The orchestral playing is excellent, however, and if you like pure singing, high notes and and if you like pure singing, high notes and coloratura, this recording is the best choice.

https://open.spotify.com/album/0PTji5FoZbMsdQALilFEgh?si=k_4QKyzdQqmN-PJNo4tkIg


Twenty years later, Sutherland recorded the role again, this time with Montserrat Caballé (Adalgisa) and Luciano Pavarotti (Pollione). Let’s call it a mistake, although Caballé’s Adalgisa is at least interesting. It’s a pity it wasn’t thought of sooner.






MONTSERRAT CABALLÉ


Caballé is a kind of cross between Callas and Sutherland: wonderful top notes, incredibly beautiful legato arches, perfect trills, and moreover a pianissimo that none of her colleagues could match. She was a much better actress than Sutherland, moreover she had great charisma. She never went to extremes like Callas or (later) Scotto, but her performances were always very convincing.
In 1973 she recorded the role for RCA and the result was very decent (GD 86502). Her Pollione, a very young Plácido Domingo, was vocally crystal clear and sounded like a bell. However, he lacked dominance, making him sound far too young for the role.

Fiorenza Cossotto in her role of Adalgisa looked more like Azucena than a young girl, but her singing as such was flawless. Unfortunately, the orchestra sounds uninspired and hurried, which must surely be blamed on the conductor, Carlo Felice Cillario.




In 1974 she sang Norma in the Roman amphitheatre in Orange (Provence). It was a very windy evening, and everything blew and moved: her hair, veils and dresses. A fantastic sensation, which added an extra dimension to the already great performance. It was filmed by French television (what luck!), and has now appeared on DVD (VAIV 4229).

Caballé sings ‘Casta Diva’:


Caballé was in superb voice, very lyrical in ‘Casta Diva’, dramatic in ‘Dormono etrambi’ and moving in ‘Deh! Non volerli vittime’. Together with Josephine Veasey, she sang perhaps the most convincing ‘Mira , o Norma’ – of all, at least in a complete recording of the opera. As two feminists avant la lettre, they renounce men and transform from rivals into bosom buddies.


Jon Vickers (Pollione) was never my cup of tea, but Veasey is a fantastic (also optically) Adalgisa and Patané conducts with passion. Of all the recordings on DVD (and there are not many), this is definitely the best.



RENATA SCOTTO


Scotto sang her first Norma in 1974, in Turin. To my knowledge, there is no recording of it, at least not of the complete opera.

Casta Diva’ from Turin:



A pirate did record the 1978 performance in Florence (Legato LCD 203-2). It should have been an ideal Norma, but unfortunately the performance was marred by a no more than adequate Ermanne Mauro as Pollione.

Margherita Rinaldi (finally a soprano again) sounds young as Adalgisa and Scotto is, according to many critics, the first Norma, after Callas, who seems to know what it’s all about. Orchestrally, this recording belongs to my top three, but the sound is unfortunately not really great.

Scotto in ‘Dormono entrambi’ in 1978:


In 1980 Scotto recorded the opera in the studio (Sony SM2K 35902), conducted by James Levine. I cannot find  much negative to say about her performance, although the ‘steel’ in her voice is sometimes particularly painful. The Adalgisa (incredibly beautiful Tatiana Troyanos) is also absolutely top-notch. But Giuseppe Giacomini (Pollione) is not great at all and Levine conducts far too heavily and overdramatically.


From Gina Cigna to Renata Scotto, forty years of Norma in a mini-discography. Part one

From Gina Cigna to Renata Scotto, forty years of Norma in a mini-discography. Part one

It is perhaps superfluous, but I have to get it off my chest: there is no such thing as objective music criticism. Of course there are criteria, but it is not science: after all, you listen to music not only with your ears, but also with your soul and your heart, and you cannot switch them off. Therefore, do not consider my mini discography as an absolute truth and, as far as possible, listen and judge for yourself.

Norma is considered the pinnacle of bel canto, but at the same time, this is a tremendous musical drama that leaves Verdi’s early works quite behind and carries with it the promise of a ‘Tristan’. And although it is a love story and both protagonists die a kind of ‘Liebestod’ at the end, love is not the heroine’s only motivation. She is also a mother, a priestess, a patriot, a daughter and a friend, and to be able to express all these aspects of human feelings, you need to be more than a ‘singer’.




The role of Norma was created by Giuditta Pasta, originally a mezzo, who had trained her voice upwards. Pasta was an exceptionally intelligent singer with a great stage personality and a great voice range but her technique was not optimal, which caused her voice to deteriorate very early in her career. Pauline Viardot (one of the most famous mezzos of her time) once said about Pasta: “She looks like ‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci – a ruin of a painting, but it is still the greatest painting in the world”.

Giulia Grisi as Norma


The first Adalgisa was sung by Giulia Grisi, a soprano who also created the roles of Elvira (I Puritani) and Giulia (I Capuletti e i  Montecchi), and who would later become a great Norma herself.

Gina Cigna

In the first fifty years of the twentieth century, Norma was only rarely performed. Opera history mentions only two memorable performances: in 1926 at the Metropolitan Opera (with Rosa Ponselle and Lauri-Volpi) and in 1936 at La Scala, with Gina Cigna.

In 1937, the very first (almost) complete recording of “Norma” was made: with Gina Cigna, Ebe Stignani and Giovanni Brevario, conducted by Vittorio Gui (various labels). the sound is still quite good, although obviously not optimal.

In the opera world there is a general opinion that most (Bel canto) singers before Callas were light, like canaries. This is not true. Just listen to Cigna’s full, dark timbre and to her sense of drama.

Cigna approaches the role from the verist tradition and plays it heavily. There are no coloraturas, but her technique is phenomenal and her top notes firm and pure. However, she is not a real actress, thus her interpretation is far behind that of Callas (among others).

Adalgisa is sung here by the young Ebe Stignani: a beautiful, warm mezzo, much more convincing here than in all her later recordings. Giovanni Breviario is an inferior Pollione, but orchestrally this recording is, together with those of Serafin (Rome 1955) and Muti (Turin 1974), one of the three finest Normas. Partly because of this (and the particularly moving sung ‘Deh! Non volerli vittime’) it is well worth listening to.

Gina Cigna and Giovanni Breviario in ‘Deh! non volerli vittime’:


MARIA CALLAS

One thinks Norma, one says Callas. Rightly so, because like no other La Divina has left her mark on this role. Between 1950 and 1964, she was undeniably the best Norma. Perhaps she was the best Norma ever. She sang the role more than 90 times and recorded it twice in the studio, both times under Tulio Serafin.

The first dates from 1954 (Warner Classics 0825646341115). Callas was then at her best vocally, yet this recording does not really captivate me. I find Serafin’s accompaniment downright boring, Filippeschi, despite his beautiful voice, is no Pollione of weight, and Stignani simply sounds (too) old. I also have some comments on Callas’ acting. Her ‘Casta Diva’ seems much more a love aria than an ode to the moon goddess, which it actually should be. But her singing is phenomenally beautiful, with wonderful heights and good trills.

In the autumn of 1960, Callas insisted on recording the opera again. It is claimed that she wanted to make her comeback with it (due to all sorts of scandals, Callas had not sung for nine months). This is possibly true, but it is also very likely that her views on the role had changed so much that she wanted to record it again.

Anyway it is fortunate that she did, because her second ‘official’ Norma (Warner Classics 0825646340842) is in all respects superior to the first. Franco Corelli is probably the best Pollione ever: a real warlord with a very masculine voice. Certain of himself and his appearance, resolute, macho, but also loving and very, very sensual and sexy. No wonder, then, that a young priestess would fall for him. And no wonder that a woman like Norma – strong, beautiful and powerful – continues to love him, despite his betrayal.

Adalgisa is sung by a young Christa Ludwig. Not really Italian, also (for me) a bit too dark in timbre, but with so much empathy that it doesn’t really matter. Callas herself is past her vocal peak and here and there she lets out a painful note, but as an actress she is absolutely unequalled. Here, too, she occasionally wants to “make believe” (the scene with her children, for example), but her intense involvement, her complete understanding and surrender – it is unique. Serafin, too, is clearly much more inspired, although I occasionally have trouble with his tempi. 

Next to these two studio- recordings there are half a dozen radio- and pirate-recordings made from her live- performances. They are from London, Milan and Rome. One of them I will discuss here, because for me, this is the greatest Norma of them all! It is a registration of a performance on 29 june 1955 in Rome (amongst others on Opera d’Oro 7003).


Callas, in wonderful voice, never misses a (top) note, nor a gasp or a nuance. From pianissisimo to forte and back again, from dark to light and open, from glissando to portamento she goes on and on and all this with a great feeling for style and a deep understanding of the text. This is dramatic Belcanto singing pur sang; this is what Bellini must have had in mind.


Mario del Monaco sings a dream of a Pollione. sometimes a bit loud, but he is allowed, because he is a warrior after all. In ‘Qual cor tradisti, qual cor perdisti’ he is audibly moved and falling in love again. Their voices melt together in the ultimate love duet which can only lead unto death.


Maria Callas and Mario del Monaco in ‘Qual cor tradisti’:

Serafin conducts it all with feeling for both drama and lyricism and if Stignani still does not convince me, it is only because I want to hear a soprano in that role.

Carolyn Sampson and her flowers

© Marco Borggreve

On Tuesday, 14 April 2015, the British soprano Carolyn Sampson, much loved mainly by early music lovers, made her appearance in the Small Hall of the Concertgebouw with a not so very common programme. This time it was not so much about the composers, but about …. flowers. So no Bach, Handel or Purcell or… but, wait a minute! The last one was indeed represented, because he too paid an ode to the rose.

The Concertgebouw’s website summed up Sampson’s recital nicely: “Normally, opera diva Sampson gets flowers thrown at her, but tonight she offers the audience a bouquet.



With her floral recital, Sampson travelled all over Europe, for which there was also a good commercial reason: the Swedish company BIS released her long-awaited new solo album, Fleurs. Roses, lots and lots of roses, but also snowdrops, jasmine and lily of the valley are not forgotten.

The afternoon before her recital, I met her in the Concertgebouwcafé. It was as if the weather gods had granted her and her flowers that little bit extra: the day was warm and sunny, with a perfectly blue sky. Her four-and-a-half-year-old daughter was playing outside, while her six-year-old son had had to stay at home: he was already of school age and so it just was not possible to take him to Amsterdam.

The children are the main reason she does so little opera, because she would have to be away from home so very often, and she is just not willing to do that. Home is Freiburg, where she has lived for nine years with her husband, who has a job with the Freiburger Barockorchester.


“I do my best not to do more than two projects a month, but sometimes it is difficult to fit it all into the schedule. In April and certainly in May, I am always busier than I would like to be. And don’t ask me why, I just don’t know.
Of course, all kinds of Passions and Easter Oratorios come along then, but I don’t think that’s the only reason. My recitals get also programmed more often in those two months.”

Doesn’t Bach get a bit boring during those months?
“Can someone have too much Bach? Oh no, oh no! Bach is never boring, especially not the two passions. I always discover something new in them”.

“I come from a family of teachers, my father was a maths teacher. Music did not really play a role in our familiy, but at home we had a piano that was always being played.
When I discovered my voice, I went to the conservatoire, but the plan was really to become a music teacher. I wanted that too, it also fitted in perfectly with the family tradition. My teacher did not agree. He thought I had much more to offer and so I was sent to London, where I had to report to Harry Christophers of The Sixteen. And then it happened as it always does: a singer fell ill and I filled in. That was in Handel’s Samson”.

Duet “Welcome as the dawn of day” from Handel’s Samson:



Sampson has already given three recitals in Amsterdam, and she remembers them well. In an earlier performance with Julius Drake she sang among other things various French songs. Repertoire after her own heart. Before the break she sang Liszt and Brahms and after the break came the French songs: Fauré and Debussy.

“Yes, you can safely say that I love French songs, they really do something for me. I also particularly love Poulenc. In 2014, together with Capella Amsterdam, I recorded his Stabat Mater for Harmondia Mundi. I sang it with tears in my eyes. So, so beautiful!”

“I would therefore really love to sing Blanche in Dialogues des Carmélites, it really is my dream role! Hopefully, one day, something will come of, but for the time being she is not yet in the planning. But soon I will sing a role in another beautiful French opera: Melisande! I’m not allowed to tell you anything about that yet, but please know that I’m really looking forward to it!”

‘Vidit suum dulcem natum’ from Poulenc’s Stabat Mater:



“I also particularly like the romantic symphonic repertoire. If I could ever be home alone and have an evening to myself, without any obligations whatsoever, I would put on Mahler’s Second Symphony, I love it. But also Brahms 4 and the Symphony Fantastique by Berlioz. Or anything by Shostakovich, I love his fierceness!”


“I prefe to sing recitals, they are of the utmost importance to me, in the future I want to concentrate on them even more.”


“About my flower project…..
It was Joseph Middleton, my pianist, who came up with the idea. We are not just partners, we are also good friends. So he knows me really well and knows what suits me. So he thought that it was nonsense to come up with the umpteenth Schubert or Schumann, that it would be much more fun to do something with a theme.
The theme of “flowers” was an obvious one. There are so very many songs about flowers! Well, all right then, also about love, sex and women, but … But a flower is actually just like a woman. And vice versa. Yes, isn’t it?

The programme is divided into four sections: the rose, when the flowers speak, a French bouquet and flower girls by Strauss

“Is it true that all sopranos love Strauss? Yes, I think so. Maybe because he loved sopranos so much himself? He composed his most beautiful music for the soprano voice. Actually, he wrote very few songs for the tenor, but when I hear his songs interpreted by Jonas Kaufmann I get quite weak in the knees!”

Sampson’s latest CD just won’t go out of my head, that’s how much I like it. Whether it is Purcell’s surprisingly spicy “Sweeter than Roses”, Fauré’s lightly perfumed “Les roses d’Ispahan”, Strauss’ ethereal “Mädchenblumen” or Lili Boulanger’s poetically sensual “Les Lilas qui avaient fleuri”: it is all very beautiful.

\



Of course, I could search for all kinds of superlatives to better describe both the choice of songs and Sampson’s crystal-clear voice, but a simple “beautiful” will do, I think. It’s like all the flowers she sings about: bright, fleeting and transient. Like everything else, really.

La Dolores  

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.

TjomasBr;eton



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.



The main interest, however, lies in the music itself and it is to be hoped that the Decca recording from 1999 is still for sale, because I gave up hope of ever hearing it live a long time ago




Tomas Bretón
La Dolores
Elisabete Matos, Raquel Pierotti, Plácido Domingo, Tito Beltrán, Manuel Lanza, Stefano Palatchi
Cor del Gran Teatre del Liceu, Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i National de Catalunya olv Antoni Ros Marbà
Decca 4660612