By Joel Kasow
PARIS, 22 DECEMBER 2011 Opera Rara, the British company
specializing in bel canto discoveries, once again puts us deeply
in their debt with their two most recent releases. We can marvel at the
insufficiently appreciated qualities of two of Gaetano Donizettis late
works, written for Vienna. Linda di Chamounix
(ORC 43) was for long regarded as a coloratura vehicle because of one aria
("O luce di quest anima") even though the title role should in fact be
sung by a heavier voice that can cope with the expressive demands of the
second act, now even more challenging with the restoration of a mad scene.
The distinctive sound of Eglise Gutierrez lends an extra dimension to the
role of Linda, while Stephen Costello as her lover offers ardent tone.
Ludovic Téziers father is yet another performance of note, with
Alessandro Corbellis "comic" Marchese never overdone and Balint Szabós
Prefetto perhaps a bit lightweight. Mark Elder leads the Covent Garden
forces in a performance that gives this reading precedence over all
previous recordings (despite individual performances worth listening to in
some of those earlier releases).
Maria di Rohan (ORC 44) is an extraordinary
work in its original Viennese form, with its short trajectory to a tragic
finale, offering fabulous roles for soprano, tenor and baritone.
Krassimira Stoyanova in the title role has the requisite heft but also the
necessary agility to cope with all aspects of the part. Tenor José Bros is
not always phonogenic but he does understand the idiom. Christopher Purves
as the not-quite-betrayed husband seems to have graduated from the bassier
parts to pure baritone and he is indeed impressive. Various appendices
allow us to hear some of the composers additions for performances in
Paris, so that Enkelejda Shkosa can shine in the two arias written when
the role of Gondì was recast as a contralto. Once again, Mark Elder, this
time leading the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, demonstrates his
commitment to the Donizettian cause. Nor should we forget the
contributions of Jeremy Commons, whose introductory articles allow us to
deepen our appreciation of the composer and the challenges he constantly
If you are looking for music of an earlier age, Virgin comes to the
rescue with Vivaldis Farnace (Virgin 50999
0709142 1), led by Diego Fasolis and I Barocchisti. The ever-astounding
Max Emanuel Cencic takes the title role, joined by other specialists:
Ruxandra Donose, Mary Ellen Nesi, Ann Hallenberg, Karina Gauvin, Daniel
Behle and Emiliano Gonzales Toro. Each brings authority to his role so
that characters are nicely differentiated, with characterful coloratura.
If your giftee already possesses the Naïve recording of this opera, you
need not fear as this version (also from the composers hand) is
Glucks Ezio (Virgin 50999 0709292 3) allows
us to hear what the composer was up to before he became a reformer with
his Orfeo ed Euridice. Alan Curtis, who already had recorded
Handels opera to the same libretto, now shows us what Gluck could do with
the same text, and our curiosity is amply rewarded. Once again, Max
Emanuel Cencics individual countertenor timbre draws our attention, but
he is matched by the equally individual timbre of contralto Sonia Prina in
the title role, not to mention the versatile Anne Hallenberg and Topi
Lehtippu. Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco make us regret the various cuts,
presumably not to expand onto a third CD.
Véronique Genss third Tragédiennes album
(50999 0709270205), always accompanied by Christophe Rousset and Les
Talens Lyriques, stretches even further afield than the first two in the
series, advancing beyond Berlioz to Saint-Saëns, Massenet and Verdi. Gens
is certainly stretched by the Verdi nothing less than Elizabeths aria
from the last act but nonetheless acquits herself with dignity. An aria
from Henri VIII by Saint-Saëns makes us want to hear the opera in its
entirety. The soprano also offers two items normally sung by mezzos, but
she easily encompasses them even when lacking the requisite heft, whether
the dignity of Fidès "Ah mon fils" or the pleading anxiety of Hérodiade.
Gens in her maturity is alas neglected in her own country, but fortunate
are those who are privileged to attend one of her performances.
On a lighter, non-operatic note, I can heartily recommend
Elan, a CD of ballet music from several operas
of Saint-Saëns that comes from the enterprising Australian firm Melba
(MR301130). Guillaume Tourniaire leads the Orchestra Victoria in complete
ballets from Ascanio and Etienne Marcel, and extracts from Henri
VIII and Les Barbares. The generous offering gives us a
wider view of one of the 19th centurys most prolific and active
composer-pianists, whether in medieval or Renaissance mood, or simply
tragic. And Tourniaire once again demonstrates that, in addition to a
commendable curiosity, he is a considerable advocate for neglected aspects
of French 19th century music, whether Saint-Saëns once more (http://www.culturekiosque.com/opera/reviews/opera_cds384.html)
or Ernest Chausson and Louis Vierne (MR30101123).
Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor at Culturekiosque. He
has been opera critic for Opera (U.K.) and Opera News (U.S.A) for thirty
years and was elected to the International Music Critics Association
(UNESCO) in 1996. Long before the existence
of "blogs", Mr. Kasow kept an Opera Diary for Culturekiosque. Opera
fans can access the archive of his intensely personal, ongoing commentary
on the opera world here.
For collectors of opera and vocal recordings, please click here to access
Operanet's archive of CD and DVD reviews.