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LONEY'S MUSIC NOTES
CD and Video Reviews by Glenn Loney
 Opera Fanatic Video
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
 Leonard Bernstein's Album CD
 Bernstein Dances CD
 West Side Story CD
 Girl Crazy Remastered CD
 Oh Kay! Remastered CD
 South Pacific Remastered CD
 Company Remastered CD
 A Little Night Music Remastered CD
 Jennifer Larmore-Call Me Mister CD
 Jerry Hadley & Thomas Hampson CD
 Roberto Alagna Verdi Arias CD
 HK Gruber in Roaring Eisler CD
 Famous Swedish Opera Singers CD
 Kirov Opera Highlights CD
 Das Lied von der Erde CD
 Chanticleer's Matins for the Virgin of Guadelupe CD
 Mozart Missae Breves CD
 Salzburg Festival Documents CDs
 Acis and Galatée CD
 Der fliegende Holländer CD
 Elena da Feltre CD
 Powder Her Face CD
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Gift-Horse Video & CDs Received:
Opera Fanatic Videotape
The indefatigable Stefan Zucker has styled himself The Opera Fanatic. He is also in the Guinness Book of Records as "the world's highest tenor."
Stefan Zucker, the Opera Fanatic
I wish I had known that before I watched the 1998 videotape sent me by the Bel Canto Society. I read the accompanying materials only later.
Listening to him narrate and question venerable Italian opera divas about voice production, was almost painful. His voice sounds light, breathy, and abnormally high.
As I once worked as a Speech Correctionist, I feared he'd had some injury to his vocal folds long ago. And that his method of producing his voice was protective, rather than restorative.
The tape is of real interest to opera-lovers because of the interviews Zucker has conducted-in 1996, in Italy-with some great and some less well remembered retired divas. It also has impressive black-and-white film-clips of most of these singers in their favorite roles.
Among the more forceful and forthright is Leyla Gencer, still a vibrant, handsome woman. It is amazing also to see these often elegant Senior Sopranos open up their throats for some rousing chords, to demonstrate how a certain phrase should be interpreted or a note voiced.
Zucker has a basic set of simple questions to put to each singer. This provokes a spirited discussion about the use of what he calls "Chest Voice," which some of the ladies insist does not exist.
Occasionally, his insistence on his set agenda of questions seems to thwart exploration of some interesting avenues-or byways-of Sopranodom.
But it is wonderful to see how feisty and opinionated some of these great divas remain today. Among the greats interviewed are Magda Olivero. Giulietta Simionato, and Fedora Barbieri.
This tape was shot as 93 minute broadcast program by Jan Schmidt-Garre. He has treated the preparations for each interview and Zucker's comments in the team's van and in the street with more than equal weight in the film.
I would have been content with more interview-out-takes and less of Zucker's musings ands effusions.
A visit to a really good Italian barber and either Armani or Versace would make him a more visually effective interviewer for TV.
The tape looks like a bootleg copy of an unseen master, for it has that orange cast of daylight film shot inside.
But I find I am wrong again! This is not a technical mistake, but a deliberate choice of Schmidt-Garre.
He was aiming, it seems, for "morbid, Visconti-like colors."
The tape can be ordered from the Bel Canto Society. Phone: 800-347-5056. It also has a website: www.belcantosociety.org
A Leonard Bernstein Trio from Deutsche Grammophon
Leonard Bernstein-The Artist's Album [DGG 457 691-2]Handsomely bound as a small book, this is a most attractive Collector's Item for Bernstein admirers and archivists. Of the 12 sections on the enclosed CD, Bernstein conducts four of his own compositions.
One of these features Christa Ludwig in "I Am Easily Assimilated," from Candide. Talk about Crossovers! And there's Tatiana Troyanos and Louise Edeiken, as well, in "America," from West Side Story.
Gidon Kremer plays "Aristophanes," from Bernstein's Serenade. And the Maestro conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in "Divertimento."
Other Bernstein-conducted segments include Marilyn Horne singing "Habanera," from Carmen, with the Met Orchestra. And Jerry Hadley and Thomas Hampson in the Bohème recording Bernstein made with the Orchestra of Santa Cecilia.
Ten great orchestras are represented. And Bernstein's virtuosity is also demonstrated in his readings of Roussel, Elgar, Haydn, Dvorak, Mahler, and Beethoven.
The bound text is in three sections-each discussing the separate recordings-in English, German, and French. But there are fascinating archival photos on each page, so it's worth leafing through those pages with unfamiliar languages as well.
Bernstein Dances [DGG 459 147-2]
When the innovative American choreographer, John Neumeier-who has made an international name for himself with the Hamburg Ballet-was planning to choreograph Mahler's Third Symphony, Bernstein advised him to work on the Seventh instead.
Johnny Neumeier's earlier Bernstein choreographies had won the Maestro's admiration. A rapport and friendship developed which encouraged Neumeier to create the elegiac Ballet Revue, Bernstein Dances.
This was devised as the "dance musical Bernstein never wrote." And Neumeier developed its score in a "chronological biographical structure."
But, as choreographed, it is not a sequential biography. It is more an evocation of the man, his moods, and his music. For Neumeier-as for many, many spectators at his concerts-Bernstein was often "dancing" the scores he was conducting on the podium.
The first section of the revue draws upon Peter Pan, Candide, Wonderful Town, On the Town, West Side Story, and Mass.
The major music of the second section is drawn from Serenade after Plato's "Symposium."But there's also a wryly amusing "The Story of My Life," cut from Wonderful Town.
This is very stimulating to hear, but it is even better if you can see it danced by the Hamburg Ballet.
West Side Story [DGG 457 199-2]"For the first time available on 1 CD" is the boast on the box of this reissue of Bernstein's DGG recording of this now classic Broadway musical. For those who love the show but who have never heard this operatic version, it can be either a treat or a shock.
Kiri Te Kanawa is Maria, with José Carreras as Tony. They are both much more mature than the musical's doomed lovers-and were so even when this was recorded. The richness and vibrance of their voices adds a special poignancy to Bernstein's music and Sondheim's lyrics. But there is more opera than drama in their interpretations.
The late and much lamented Tatiana Troyanos is an excitable Anita, with Kurt Ollmann as Riff. Wonderful Angelina Réaux is Francisca. Marilyn Horne sings "Somewhere" with an extra sadness and longing.
Bernstein conducts the orchestra and chorus with his accustomed verve in this quasi-operatic recreation. It was made September 1984, in New York in RCA Studio A.
New/Old Columbia Broadway Masterworks Titles-[All these new CDs feature digitally remastered sound, extensive new liner-notes, and unusually interesting archival photos. Each one also has bonus tracks, in some cases of recorded materials not previously released.]
"SONY Music Celebrates 100 Years of Gershwin" with two attractive re-issues:
Girl Crazy [1951 Studio Cast Recording]Yes, all of these recordings do sound better-and certainly smoother-in the digital remastering. This one features Mary Martin in the lead.
Of course it's not an Original Cast Recording, for they weren't making them way back in 1930. Complete recordings of such American Musical Classics had to be much later reconstructed from original singles or with studio casts. Or made with casts from revival productions.
Its "bonus track" is an alternate version of "But Not for Me," sung by Martin, with Lehman Engel conducting. For fans, specialists, and musical historians, it's good to have such cutting-room-floor retrievals.
There are those listeners, however, who do not demand "Uncut Versions."
Many of Columbia's Broadway musical recordings-whether original casts or studio-casts-nearly disappeared forever. It is thanks to Miles Monroe Kreuger that the recording-masters for many musicals produced by the late, great Goddard Lieberson have survived.
Kreuger-who has created an Institute of the American Musical in Los Angeles-was Lieberson's assistant. Dispatched to a Columbia warehouse to oversee the disposal of old metallic pressing-masters which were no longer needed, he discovered that some of them were the sole surviving records of major American musicals.
Oh, Kay! [1955 Studio Cast Recording]This lively reconstruction of the Broadway hit of 1926 features Jack Cassidy, Barbara Ruick, Allen Case, and Roger White. It is also conducted with jazzy verve by Lehman Engel.
The bonuses-in addition to Ed Jablonski's liner-notes-are Mary Martin singing "Maybe" and George Gershwin himself at the piano, playing "Clap Yo' Hands" and "Someone to Watch Over Me."
SONY Broadway Classics-
South Pacific [Original Broadway Cast, 1949]Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza were great in the original recording. But they sound even better remastered.
And you also get Juanita Hall in her inimitable rendition of "Bali Ha'i." One of the bonus tracks has Pinza singing the same haunting song-but it's no Hall-mark imitation.
Martin is heard on two other bonus tracks: she sings "Loneliness of Evening" and "My Girl Back Home." These were dropped from the original score, but the first was later used in the R&H TV Cinderella.
Long before The Three Tenors and the rage for Crossovers, Pinza demonstrated how effective an operatic voice could be in the lighter and less-demanding songs of a Broadway musical.
Other highly trained voices, however, have not been so successful. For a musical, the performer has to have some physical and emotional flexibility. It does help if he or she can act!
Company [Original Broadway Cast, 1970]
Dean Jones was not really very good as Robert, the central character in Furth & Sondheim's innovative musical, Company. He was, in fact, almost affectless.
Interviewing the show's director, Hal Prince, early in the Broadway run, I noted this. But Prince at least defended the conception of the character of Bobby-as a social wimp who is acted upon, rather than acting.
People needed him to listen to their sorrows, longings, and family fights: ""Bobby, come on over to dinner!"
The bonus track on this remastering of the original cast recording has Larry Kert singing "Being Alive." Kert, of course, replaced Jones when the latter soon got "sick" and had to leave the show.
And you will hear again all those ingenious, probing, satiric songs. Not to overlook-and who could do that?-such distinctive talents as Elaine Stritch, Barbara Barrie, Donna McKechnie, Susan Browning, Pamela Myers, Steve Elmore, and Charles Braswell.
A Little Night Music [Original Broadway Cast, 1973]Hermione Gingold lives again! And new, remastered life is given to Len Cariou, Pat Elliott, Laurence Guittard, and Glynis Johns as well.
One of the best Sondheim conductors, Paul Gemignani, marshalls the orchestral and vocal forces. The unreleased track of "Night Waltz II" is one of the bonuses. The other is "The Glamorous Life," as recorded for the film version and sung by Elaine Tomkinson.
Other SONY Columbia Broadway Masterworks Titles: On the Town was recorded with a studio-cast. All other current reissues are of the original cast recordings. They include A Chorus Line, Kiss Me, Kate, Cabaret, My Fair Lady, Camelot, Annie, and West Side Story-without opera-stars.
Planned for remastered reissue are: Gypsy, Mame, Sweet Charity, No, No, Nanette, Cinderella, and Flower Drum Song.
If you want to know more about the SONY label's entire catalogue-and even listen to some sound-clips of recordings-try the SONY Classical Listening Station website: www.sonyclassical.com
Call Me Mister [Teldec 0630 10211-2]She's on the CD cover in striped suit, holding a cigar, and smiling enigmatically. It is mezzo Jennifer Larmore in 12 breeches roles!
As the parts range from Mozart's Cherubino through Bellini's Romeo to Strauss' Prince Orlofsky, Larmore has ample opportunity to demonstrate her emotional as well as her vocal range.
Having scored a number of successes in trousers-roles, this CD was in fact Larmore's own idea. Other gender-bending roles she interprets are provided by Meyerbeer, Rossini, Gluck, Donizetti, and Gounod.
Offering another kind of [invisible] cross-dressing, Larmore sings Joan of Arc's aria, "Adieu, forêts..." from Tchaikovsky's La pucelle d'Orléans.
Carlo Rizzi conducts the Orchestra of the Welsh National Opera.
Hadley & Hampson [Teldec 9031 73283-2]
And here's Carlo Rizzi again with the Welsh National Opera Orchestra. Only this time he's working with two of the most talented, vibrant, and attractive male opera stars on stage today-Jerry Hadley and Thomas Hampson.
The selection of tenor/baritone duets they've chosen is by no means all popular operatic standards. When was the last time you heard-never mind "saw"-Meyerbeer's Dinorah?
From this virtually forgotten opera, they revive the duet "Quand l'heure sonnera." Nor have they neglected Donizetti's much-neglected Belisario.
For that matter, Verdi's Sicilian Vespers and Bizet's The Pearlfishers are not performed so often.
From the popular repertory, they have chosen duets from Bohème, Don Carlos, Lucia, Elixir, and Fledermaus.
This recording is a rare treat, one you can hear over and over. And it will make you eager to see them as well, the next time they are at the Met.
Roberto Alagna/Verdi Arias [EMI Classics 24355 65672]Alagna has apparently been the victim of too much hyperactive publicity. Not to mention the difficulties he and his bride have had with some opera-managements.
From the evidence of this disk-devoted almost entirely to Verdi arias-he doesn't project quite the vitality and variety his press-releases and quoted raves lead one to expect.
Nonetheless, the richness and fullness of his powerful tenor are a continuing pleasure to hear. And he is clearly sensitive to major changes of mood and emotion.
Some contrasts of subtle softness with sudden bursts of volume create a powerful effect. But their genesis seems calculated: technical, rather than emotional.
Alagna is supported, in two numbers from Otello, by other singers. Claudio Abbado conducts the Berlin Philharmonic.
The bonus on this CD is the third act duet from Trovatore, which blends his artistry with that of his wife, Angela Gheorgiu-on loan from Decca. "Di quella pira" is a real dividend.
Roaring Eisler: H K Gruber [BMG/RCA Red Seal 74321 56882-2]This exciting CD could be sub-titled "Roaring Gruber" as well. This erstwhile Vienna Choirboy brings a raw, often gut-wrenching vocal power to the music of Hanns Eisler.
In this, however, he is mightily assisted by the lyrics of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Tucholsky, among other German poets of the Weimar Era. Brecht is far better known in the New World than Tucholsky.
So this may be a way to spark some interest in Tucholsky's satirical view of life. He died, a suicide, in Swedish exile from the Nazis in 1935.
This recording certainly ought to inspire greater and better-informed interest in Eisler as one of Brecht's most important collaborators.
Many Americans and Canadians who think they are familiar with Brecht's songs really know only those created in collaboration with Kurt Weill. After this duo's definitive break, however, Brecht and his poetry inspired not only Hanns Eisler, but also East German composer Paul Dessau.
An extra frisson in listening may be added by the knowledge that the ardent Socialists Hanns and his brother Gerhard Eisler were high up on J. Edgar Hoover's list of dangerous "Commies."
When Hanns Eisler testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, he told those earlier congressional versions of Trent Lott & Company: "...songs will never destroy fascism, but they are necessary all the same." Brecht and the Eislers fled the United States before they could be arrested and detained by the FBI.
Gruber both sings and conducts Frankfurt's Ensemble Modern-which can recreate the jazzy sounds of Berlin in the 1920s with period gusto.
Of more than mere historical interest is Brecht's lyric and Eisler's mock-military tune for "The Song of the SA-Man."
There are also two songs from Brecht's drama, The Roundheads and the Pointed-Heads. One of these is Brecht's anti-capitalist lyric, "Song of the Invigorating Effect of Money."
Tucholsky's lyrics are represented by "Good Deeds" and "Ideal and Reality."
And there are songs by Julian Arendt and David Weber. The latter is "Ballad of Nigger Jim," recounting the tragic tale of a naive black man's harassment and lynching.
Not all the tracks are vocals, however. There's Eisler's orchestral suite for the film No Man's Land and another suite for Brecht's film, Kuhle Wampe.
Famous Swedish Opera Singers [Gala 333]Great singers have certainly come out of Sweden to dazzle the world of opera. Birgit Nilsson is perhaps the best known.
But Jüssi Björling, Set Svanholm, Nicolai Gedda, Elisabeth Söderström, and Ingvar Wixell-each in his or her own way-have enriched the annals of opera-performance.
And they have all returned from conquests abroad to sing on their home-stage, that of the Royal Opera in Stockholm. It has a lavishly decorated auditorium for such an intimate house, but the acoustic is good.
This archival treasure begins with a super-scratchy 1909 Faust and ends with a 1971 Alcina, featuring Kerstin Meyer.
Other talents include Berit Lindholm, Torsten Ralf, Erik Saedén, Sven Nilsson, Kerstin Thorborg, and Karin Branzell.
It is compelling to hear these wonderful voices-some heard once again, some never before-but the surface noises are unduly intrusive.
Some years ago-before you could remove such annoyances on your own home-computer, with the right software-I watched a technician clean up the noise on an old Callas recording.
This was in the EMI Abbey Road Studios-down the hall from the room in which the Beatles recorded. I was amazed to watch the wavy lines of the orchestral and vocal music frozen on screen as some minute clicks and puffs were removed.
As Gala has an interesting line of historical opera recordings-lots of Callas!-it would have been a good investment in their future to clean up the surface noise.
Highlights from the Kirov Opera [Philips 006]While it is true that the Kirov's conductor-director, Valery Gergiev, seems always on the go-and often his Petersburg opera-productions with him-there are still millions who have neither seen nor heard any of these memorable stagings.
This past year, you could have savored four Kirov productions at the Met, one of which, Betrothal in a Monastery, was later shown in San Francisco. The new Festival Theatre in Baden-Baden had a whole week of the Kirov in August.
With the abrupt demise of Soviet Communism-and the tremendous state arts-subsidies that were part of its cultural program-the future of the Kirov was thrown in doubt. But Gergiev has thus far managed to keep the house open and the standards of performance high.
This is very important, for its Slavic repertory cannot be duplicated anywhere in the West. This is not only a problem of finding great singers who can sing in Russian.
It's also a question of finding singers who have been immersed-and schooled in-the Russian cultural experience almost from birth.
Not to overlook those choreographers, musicians, designers, and technicians who have a real "feel" for the folk-tales and myths, the histories, the fictions, and the compelling scores which bring them to life on stage.
On this CD is an impressive enactment of the Coronation Scene from Boris Godunov. As well as extracts from Borodin's Prince Igor and Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila, both of which were shown at the Met.
Tchaikovsky is represented by Yeletsky's aria [Vladimir Chernov] from Pique Dame. But there are also arias from his Enchantress and Iolanta, works seldom performed in the West.
Even in Western Europe-let alone across the Atlantic-Rimsky-Korsakov is known for only a few of his operas. On this CD, listeners can sample arias from Kashei The Immortal, The Maid of Pskov, and Sadko.
There's even Dmitri Hvorostovsky with Aleko's cavatina, from Sergei Rachmaninoff's Aleko.
Other admirable Kirov artists on this CD include the wonderful Anna Netrebko, Olga Borodina, Vladimir Galusin, and Galina Gorchakova.
Das Lied von der Erde [DGG 439 948-2]With Jessye Norman and Siegfried Jerusalem as the interpreters of this haunting song-cycle, one has an interesting contrast of vocal qualities and technical abilities.
This actually adds to the mysterious but ultimately liberating effect of the poem. Under the baton of James Levine-always protective of Norman's artistry-the Berlin Philharmonic offers a sensitive reading of Mahler's score.
"Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Tod." This somber quality, in a drunken reverie, colors even the more joyous images. But what can you expect when an Austrian composer is reworking a German poet's reworking of some Chinese verses,
after all? Not to forget Mahler's own pensive moodiness-which informs the entire work-faced with an early death from heart disease.
You could win a trivia contest if anyone ever asks who the German Poet was: Hans Bethge. And the cycle of poems is from "The Chinese Flute." In case you need to know and don't get this CD.
Matins for the Virgin of Guadalupe, 1764 [Teldec 0630 19340-2]Under exclusive contract to Teldec, the amazing vocal group, Chanticleer, is enriching the choral repertory by searching out little performed or totally forgotten music. These Mexican Matins are an excellent example of its work in this area.
Until recently, there was little awareness of the riches of baroque music created in the New World. Obviously not in Puritan Protestant New England.
But in Roman Catholic Hispanic Central and South America, impressive masses and other religious compositions were being created and performed in churches and cathedrals. Much of this musical material has been lost, hidden, shoved aside, so that discoveries and reconstructions are difficult.
The Matins were composed in Mexico City-to religious texts honoring the Virgin Mary-by Ignacio de Jerusalem [1707-1769]. He was not a native prodigy, but an Italian composer brought to the Mexican capital to improve the quality of music at a public theatre, the Coliseo.
He soon discovered his vocation as composer, conductor, and performer of religious music. During his tenure at the Cathedral in Mexico City, his chorus and orchestra were regarded as better than those of Seville or Toledo.
The various elements of this religious song-cycle are not part of a mass. Matins are services for the early morning hours.
This service not only invokes the blessings and protection of the Virgin Mary. It also recounts-in Latin-the miracle of her appearance to a simple Mexican peasant in 1531.
She asked him to tell the Bishop she wished a great basilica erected to her honor on the mountain where the astonished farmer met her. A miraculous shower of fresh roses-in winter!-from his cloak convinced the Bishop.
The great baroque Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe was soon built some distance from Mexico City-where it stands in majesty today above the village of Guadalupe.
The much later Marian Basilicas of Lourdes and Fatima have inspired their own special religious music. But these 18th century Matins of Ignacio de Jerusalem have a special power and quality-with elements of Handel and Mozart.
Their interpretation by the Chanticleer chorale and its Sinfonia-under the direction of Joseph Jennings-is majestic, haunting, and soaring.
Mozart-Missae Breves [Teldec 3984 21818-2]Thanks to playwright Peter Shaffer and his Mozart drama, Amadeus, it is now well-known that the Austrian Emperor did not like compositions either too complex or too long. "Too many notes, Mozart! Too many notes!"
Nor did the Imperial Court like long, long musical masses. On great state occasions, of course, a measured and majestic mass was certainly wanted.
But for daily services, the shorter the better. Without scanting the ritual elements necessary to perform the miracle of transforming wine and wafer into blood and body.
So Mozart obliged, initially in Salzburg as a young composer for the ecclesiastical court of Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo.
The four brief masses on this CD are all from that early period in Mozart's career. They include the "Sparrow-mass."
Nikolaus Harnoncourt-who often conducts at the Salzburg Festival-leads the Concentus Musicus Wien with magisterial hand.
Soloists include Angela Maria Blasi, Uwe Heilmann, Oliver Widmer, Christine Schäfer, and Ingeborg Danz. They are accompanied by the Arnold Schoenberg Choir.
Salzburg Festival Documents-Considering the trash-musical and otherwise-that America's broadcasters have long been accustomed to dump audially in millions of homes, it is all the more astonishing and admirable that such a small country as Austria has always insisted on only the highest quality of classical, folk, and popular music on its airwaves.
It is largely thanks to ORF-initially Austrian Radio, and now TV as well-that some of the most outstanding performances at the annual summer Salzburg Festival have been preserved for future generations.
In recent years, EMI Classics has been releasing a series of these impressive Festspieldokumente. Many of the recorded performances were conducted by Herbert von Karajan, long the Director of the Festival.
The standing summer orchestra in Salzburg was and is the Vienna Philharmonic, with the Singverein of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Wien as the regular chorus.
That means that the three Von Karajan archival recordings listed below show the precise-even cold-perfectionism that was his hallmark as a conductor. Even in his ascendancy, he was not the favorite conductor of many musicians, critics, or even audiences.
That in no way diminishes the often definitive interpretations he, his soloists, and his orchestra were able to achieve. Despite acerbic criticism and envious sniping.
Brahms-Ein Deutsches Requiem [EMI Classics 5 66879-2]This is a live recording of a 1957 performance in the Felsenreitschule, featuring Lisa della Casa and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. They were both at peaks of vocal power-from which Fischer-Dieskau did not soon descend.
Verdi-Messa da Requiem/Bruckner-Te Deum [EMI Classics 5 66880-2]This is an ORF live recording of a 21 August 1958 concert, again in the Felsenreitschule.
It is a superb experience-even 40 years later-thanks to soloists Leonie Rysanek, Christa Ludwig, Leontyne Price, Fritz Wunderlich, Walter Berry, Cesare Siepi, and Giuseppe Zampieri.
We shall never see-or hear-their like again! Rysanek, Ludwig, and Price belong in the eternal firmament!
Beethoven-Missa Solemnis [EMI Classics 5 66876-2]This is an ORF recording of a concert the following summer, on 19 August 1959, also in the Felsenreitschule.
Leontyne Price and Christa Ludwig are again soloists. Also soloists are tenor Nicolai Gedda and bass/baritone Nicola Zaccaria. Franz Sauer plays the organ, and concert-master Willi Boskovsky plays the violin solo.
The bonus-dubious for those who do not understand German, are not interested in processes, or who hated the Maestro-is the inclusion of four rehearsal excerpts.
You can hear Von Karajan hectoring his musicians and singers in the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. Still, it is valuable to have these cuts in the archival record.
Operas Old and New-
Acis et Galatée [DGG Archiv 453 498-2]Under the agile baton of Marc Minkowski, Jean-Baptiste Lully's musical evocation of the "Heroic Pastoral," Acis et Galatée, is an elegantly mannered delight.
The concept of being transformed into a river as a Happy Ending may well have been a Blessed Relief in Classic Greece and Neo-Classic France. But its educational value as a Moral Lesson seems all too quaint now.
The beautiful Galatea rejected a an ugly god, Polyphemus, in favor of a handsome shepherd. And the angry suitor took an ungodly revenge. Neptune tried to undo the damage, transforming her into a Force of Nature.
[But this is not quite like turning Monica into the Colorado River. Or into Hurricane Lewinsky-"Blow, Ye Winds, Blow!"]
The title-roles are sung by Jean-Paul Fouchécourt and Véronique Gens. Laurent Naouri is Polyphème.
They are accompanied by the Musicians of the Louvre and its chorus. Lest you go looking for them when you are next at the Museum in Paris, try Grenoble instead.
That's in the Region Rhône-Alpes. But these are by no means provincial musicians. Their work is admirable, as shown in this recording.
Der Fliegende Holländer [DGG Archiv 437 778-2]Placido Domingo's efforts to master almost all aspects of opera performance fortunately do not include cross-dressing. Except in that long robe in Parsifal,
which looks a bit dowager-like. His attempts to master some of the Wagnerian repertory roles are admirable. But, considering his worldwide success in Italian roles, why should he try so hard?
At this point in his career, he is not apt to sound more German each time he sings a Wagner role. The wonder is that he persists, when there are thousands-perhaps even Three-Tenor Millions-who still want to see him in his signature Italian roles.
In this recent recording, conducted by Giuseppe Sinopoli, Domingo sings the desperate and rejected young lover, Erik. It's not exactly type-casting, for his German has a delicate latinate overlay.
And neither he nor his voice are getting any younger.
But then neither is his beloved Senta, Cheryl Studer-who has just been severed from the Bavarian State Opera, thanks to a dust-up with conductor Zubin Mehta. She's suing.
The absolutely solid anchors of this recording are Hans Sotin as Daland, Bernd Weikl as the Dutchman, Ute Priew as Mary, and Peter Seiffert as the Steersman.
They are ably supported by the chorus and orchestra of Berlin's German Opera/Deutsche Oper.
Elena da Feltre [Marco Polo 8.225064-65]This is the valuable live recording of last season's Wexford Opera Festival revival of Mercadante's largely forgotten musical tragedy.
Premiered in 1839, the opera was a crowning achievement in a long career, in which the composer wrote some sixty operas. Saverio Mercadante was something of a pioneer, in that he was not interested solely in showy vocalism.
In an opera-world awash in Bel Canto, he believed opera scores should be freed from formulaic and restrictive requirements for arias, duets, and choruses. Not that the forms should be abandoned, but that they should be natural developments in the unfolding drama.
Monica Colonna is an impressive Elena in this production. Others include Nicola Ulivieri, Cesare Catani, Elena Rossi, and Lorenzo Muzzi.
Maurizio Benini conducts the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, with the Festival Chorus, prepared by the very talented Lubomir Mátl.
This fall, the Wexford Festival presented Charlatan, The Knights of Ekebu, and Fosca. The BBC broadcast them live, but unfortunately no record company came forward to present them on CDs.
This is a loss-apparently because of slackening sales of classical recordings-but if the performances are preserved on tape, they might still be issued eventually. If real opera buffs can fight over a copy of the "Lisbon Traviata," who would not kill for a rare recording of Gomez, Haas, or Zandonai?
This coming October, the Wexford Festival will again produce three virtually forgotten operas, as is the annual custom. These will include Karl Goldmark's Die Königin von Saba, Stanislaw Moniuszko's The Haunted Manor, and Umberto Giordano's Siberia.
Moniuszko's Straszny Dwór, it is true, is still a repertory favorite in Poland. But when was the last time you saw it at the Met?
Powder Her Face [EMI Classics 5 56649-2]
Talk about cutting-edge! Young Thomas Adès has concocted a modern chamber opera-with an innovative libretto by Philip Hensher-that is both amusingly alienating and parodically lyrical.
It has echoes of Alban Berg's Lulu, Britten's Turn of the Screw, Philip Glass's serial minimalism, and notated nods toward Couperin, Ligeti, and Richard Strauss. Not to mention whiffs of Cole Porter and Noël Coward.
The orchestration makes musical references to cabaret bands and a tango orchestra. And Der Rosenkavalier meets Rake's Progress. Tristan makes way for Wozzeck.
Novelist, art-and-book critic Hensher's tart, artful, and cynical libretto was suggested by the life of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll.
She is best remembered-if at all-for her sensational divorce case in 1963. The Duke-who made possible her life of luxury and laziness-tired of her endless and notorious seductions and affairs. Though he was himself something of a philanderer.
Adès' Duchess is also a beautiful woman-with no intellectual or spiritual reserves. Her face, artfully made-up, and her alluring body are all she has to make her attractive to men. And the envy of other women.
The opera opens in 1990, with an Electrician and a Maid in her hotel-suite, parodying her former lifestyle. She catches them at it, but they don't stop. She retreats into her memories, as a menacing male enters.
At the close, he will be revealed as the Hotel Manager. She is being asked to leave immediately for non-payment of rent.
This actually happened to the real Duchess, who had to vacate the Dorchester Hotel penthouse in 1990. But, even after her humiliating divorce, she threw a gala 80th birthday party for J. Paul Getty and a later bash for Prince Michael of Kent.
In Adès' opera-which flashes back to 1934, 1936, 1953, l955, and 1970-only four singers perform all the roles.
On the CD, conducted by the composer with the Almeida Ensemble, Jill Gomez ably fulfills the difficult role of the Duchess-both vocally and emotionally challenging.
Valdine Anderson, Niall Morris, and Roger Bryson deftly switch from role to role, seldom treating the Duchess with anything resembling respect.
She is a painted and powdered face, with insatiable passions. When her looks and body have gone, she has lost everything. Even her seductive manner becomes a pathetic travesty.
The music holds her up to an often mocking mirror. But this Duchess lived in a world of privilege now almost vanished. Thanks in part to the recent public antics of Prince Charles, Lady Di, Fergie, and other tabloid favorites.
Hensher and Adès between them have created a musically fascinating and dramatically compelling theatre-critique of a class-system based on money and appearances, rather than on intellect and real achievement.
New Yorkers had the all-too-brief opportunity to see the work semi-staged at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this past fall. There were only three [sold-out] performances. It also will be performed at both the Helsinki and Aldeburgh Festivals later in 1999.
Thomas Adès is now Artistic Director of the latter festival, founded by Sir Benjamin Britten.
A brilliant pianist as well as a multi-award-winning composer, Adès is working on his second opera. It is to be premiered in 2001, when the restored and rebuilt Royal Opera, Covent Garden, reopens.
Music critic Paul Griffiths insists that the score for Powder Her Face is "the music of the future." Critics have acclaimed Adès' orchestral and operatic work worldwide.
And no less a musical-history expert and trend-spotter than Andrew Porter wrote the liner-notes for this EMI Classics CD!
It was premiered in 1995 at the Cheltenham Festival, followed by a London premiere at the avant-garde Almeida Theatre-which actively encourages creation of new works of music-theatre.
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Copyright © Glenn Loney 1998. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: email@example.com.
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