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EDITOR'S CD REVIEW OF OPERA AND SONG

 

By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 13 DECEMBER 2009

Kate Royal: Midsummer Night
Kate Royal, soprano
Orchestra of English National Opera
Edward Gardner, conductor
EMI 268 1922 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Kate Royal’s enticing compilation of arias from operas little performed alongside some more familiar items, all rendered with vocal polish and gleaming high notes, is a winner. All of the music on this CD is unabashedly "romantic," which may rule in its disfavor in certain quarters, though it makes for "easy" listening. William Alwyn is little known outside Great Britain, and his opera Miss Julie now has to withstand competition from the more recent Julie by Philippe Boesmans as well as Ned Rorem’s earlier effort. Julie’s soliloquy portrays the character’s repressed sexuality, also true of Cressida’s aria from Walton’s Troilus and Cressida. In arias from Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, Bernard Herrmann’s Wuthering Heights, not to mention the title role of Rusalka, Royal more than holds her own, even though she does not master the southern accent for Susannah. The drama of Vanessa is palpable, while the Britten excerpts make us want to hear the singer in those operas. The nightingale song from Monsieur Beaucaire reminds us how underrated a composer is André Messager, particularly his operettas. Edward Gardner is equally persuasive conducting the English National Opera Orchestra. 

 

Véronique Gens: Tragédiennes 2
Véronique Gens, soprano
Les Talens Lyriques
Christophe Rousset, conductor
VIRGIN 50999 2 16574 2 9 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Véronique Gens’s second Tragédiennes album is as valuable as its predecessor for the repertoire presented and the qualities of the interpreter. Rameau and Gluck are still present, but this time we go as far as Berlioz and also his nemesis, Cherubini, surprisingly the mezzo aria for Néris and not one of Médée’s utterances. We should bear in mind that Gens has long moved beyond the early 18th century repertoire in which she first made her name, singing such roles in the theater as Tatiana (Eugene Onegin), Eva (Meistersinger), and even the Merry Widow (in an appalling production in French, of which the DVD is apparently imminent), while her website also mentions the two Strauss hosenrollen, Oktavian and the Composer, on her wish list. Unfortunately, Gens rarely appears in either her own country or on the American continent, which makes this CD especially welcome as she is one of France’s finest exponents of a wide range of the French repertoire. (Will Tragédiennes 3 take us through Meyerbeer, Halévy and the lesser lights?)  As on the earlier CD, Gens has the breadth of line essential for Gluck or Berlioz, the solid lower range so that Cherubini’s eloquent aria with bassoon obligato makes its full effect, and the command of French declamation without which the enterprise would be disastrous. The surprise here is an excerpt from Herminie, a cantata written by Arriaga, whose death at the age of 20 has always been lamented. The music emerges from the late 18th century mold and is far more romantic than Sacchini or Piccinni, who nonetheless remain fascinating for their achievements as the few excerpts hitherto available have demonstrated. Most surprising is Cassandre’s aria from Les Troyens, which shows the force of the character, the despair and also the nobility of the doomed heroine. Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques once again show they are the equal of their competitor/colleagues in this repertoire, and the few orchestral excerpts allow them to shine on their own.

 

Inva Mula: Il bel sogno
Inva Mula, soprano
Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra
Ivo Lipanoviç, conductor
VIRGIN 50999 6 94538 0 9 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Inva Mula’s career received its initial boost when she won the first Placido Domingo Competition, and she is no stranger to either CD or DVD, although this is her first solo album. The selections are from operas that Mula has sung on stage, allowing us to appreciate her floated high pianissimo and her full tone when required. It is not often that one hears excerpts from Gounod’s Mireille, a work that she sang for the opening of the new regime at the Paris Opéra. Both here and in Marguerite’s arias (especially the aria often omitted), she shows her feeling for French style, and her ability to make the drama live through the music. Thaïs’s mirror song is also admirable, while the more familiar Verdi and Puccini selections allow us to appreciate the singer’s prowess. One quibble — the light  touch once at her command for virtuosic passages seems to elude her on this CD, but the conducting of Ivo Lipanoviç is far from fleet.

 

Turbulent Heart: Music of Vierne & Chausson
Steve Davislim, tenor
The Queensland Orchestra
Guillaume Tourniaire, conductor
MELBA MR 301123 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer has often been recorded, usually by a mezzo, occasionally a soprano, two or three times by a baritone, but the adventurous tenor Steve Davislim is the first to allow us to hear the work as the composer himself conceived it. And once again, Davislim shows us that the composer may have had a point in wanting a male voice for this work, however well it may be sung by any number of women. Bouchor’s overwrought poetry finds its match in Guillaume Tourniaire’s sympathetic accompaniment, while the four symphonic songs by Louis Vierne are a welcome addition to the catalogue, expanding our horizons and understanding of a period in music too often denigrated today.

 

Puccini: Ritrovato
Violeta Urmana (soprano); Plácido Domingo (tenor); Wiener Philharmoniker; Vienna Opera Chorus; Alberto Veronesi (conductor)
DGG 477 7455 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

We are of course aware that Puccini was an obsessive composer, constantly tinkering with his operas to achieve the perfection he sought. The selections on this cd show us the composer’s original thoughts on some of his works, and also a discarded revision of the quartet from La Rondine. Puccini may have adored sopranos, but he never facilitated their task. Listen to the selections from Manon Lescaut, Madama Butterfly, Fanciulla del West or Suor Angelica where the poor heroine is stretched far beyond her comfort zone. Fortunately  Violeta Urmana has the reserves and vocal velvet to remain unfazed throughout, even tackling excerpts from Edgar for both female roles. Domingo sings a brief aria from Rondine, a duet from Edgar and a baritone role in the above-mentioned quartet from Rondine. Alberto Veronesi and the Vienna Philharmonic are also heard in orchestral excerpts from Edgar and Manon Lescaut, a Preludio and and Adagietto for chamber orchestra. A fascinating glimpse into the composer’s workshop.

 

Adès: The Tempest
Simon Keenlyside (Prospero); Kate Royal (Miranda); Cyndia Sieden (Ariel); Ian Bostridge (Caliban); Toby Spence (Ferdinand); Philip Langridge (King of Naples); Donald Kaasch  (Antonio); Stephen Richardson (Stefano); David Cordier (Trinculo); Jonathan Summers (Sebastian); Graeme Danby (Gonzalo)
 Royal Opera House Chorus; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; Covent Garden
Thomas Adès, conductor
EMI 50999 6 95234 2 7 (2 CDs; notes in English, French and German; text in English only)

Thomas Adès is no longer the bad boy but has entered the mainstream of contemporary music. The Tempest follows the controversial Powder her Face and shows an increasing mastery of both form and content. Meredith Oakes’s libretto paraphrases Shakespeare with varying degrees of success, but most importantly provides the composer with the framework (with thanks to the Bard) to weave his enchantment. Adès captures the other-worldliness of Ariel with stratospheric writing for coloratura soprano, a role in which Cyndia Sieden excels, occasionally intelligible at heights when most sopranos have long ceased to articulate. Simon Keenlyside once again demonstrates his supreme intelligence allied to vocal warmth as Prospero, with Ian Bostridge as his foil Caliban proving that in many respects he is a worthy successor to Peter Pears. Kate Royal (see above) and Toby Spence luxuriate as the young lovers so that we enjoy the composer’s lyricism. The Covent Garden forces under the authoritative leadership of the composer are all that could be desired, so that we can testify that opera is not dead.

 

Massenet: Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame
Roberto Alagna (Jean); Stefano Antonucci (Boniface); Francesco Ellero d’Artegna (Le Prieur); Marc Larcher (Un moine poète); Richard Rittelmann (Un moine peintre); Marco di Sapia (Un moine musicien); Ekvgueniy Alexiev (Un moine sculpteur)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Montpellier
Enrique Diemecke, conductor
DGG 480 187-0 (2 CDs, texts and translations in English and French)

The Opéra National de Montpellier offers at least one concert performance of a rarely encountered opera each season. Roberto Alagna’s return to the stage in a role made for him after the tumultous reception during Aida at La Scala, an impassioned reading by conductor Enrique Diemecke and the opportunity to become (re)acquainted with Massenet’s minor masterpiece, Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame, are reasons to revel in the fortunate presence of DGG’s recording microphones. Alagna once again demonstrates his exceptional qualities as a French tenor, making one wonder why he wants to sing the heavier roles in Italian opera where there are others who are equally capable, while he has no rivals in the French repertoire. One might wonder why two Italian singers were engaged as Boniface and the Prieur, but Stefano Antonucci touches the heart in the "Légende de la sauge", redeeming his lack of the proper French crispness, while Francesco Ellero d’Artegna waffles his way through his role. Diemecke always seems to galvanise the Orchestra National de Montpellier into giving more than their best.

 

Ricci: Corrado d’Altamura
Dimitra Theodossiou (Delizia); Ann Taylor (Bonello); Cora Burggraaf (Margarita); Camilla Roberts (Isabella); Dmitry Korchak (Roggero); James Westman (Corrado); Andrew Foster-Williams (Giffredo); Mark Wilde (Albarosa/Knight)
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
Philharmonia Orchestra
Roland Böer, conductor
OPERA RARA ORR 246 (texts and translations in English and Italian)

Once again Opera Rara takes the opportunity to expose us to the work of Federico Ricci, his very serious opera Corrado d’Altamura. Corrado (baritone) is the father of Delizia (soprano) who loves and is loved by Roggero (tenor), but Roggero decides to marry Margarita. A major confrontation in the first act finale has Delizia interrupting the wedding, giving her ring to Roggero after he has dropped his ducal ring into the depths of his father’s tomb. Corrado is visited in the second act by an aged hermit (Roggero in disguise) who asks forgiveness which is not granted, father is killed by lover who then seeks pardon from Delizia who curses him. End of opera. You may wonder who are those other characters listed above, but only one, Bonello, is significant musically with two arias and a duet. He is in love with Delizia and sung by a mezzo, created by Maria Brambilla who often sang roles that were musically important but dramatically insignificant. Dimitra Theodossiou is already showing signs of wobble on sustained high notes, while her lower notes lack power; it is unfortunate that a singer found interesting by several reviewers over the years has not fulfilled her promise. The young Russian tenor, Dimitry Korchak (born 1979), is here extending his repertory into dramatic territory after the Rossini and Donizetti that have mostly come his way, and he shows signs of musicality, singing entire phrases at a dynamic level other than mezzo forte, something not all tenors would essay. James Westman is more than serviceable in the title role but Ann Taylor has to content herself with a four-minute extract from a much longer duet with Delizia, which shows her off to better advantage than the few low-lying passages that come her way at the end of the opera. Conductor Roland Böer has the measure of the music except for an occasional misjudgment with respect to the climax of a section. The Philharmonia Orchestra is up to the task, instrumental soloists enjoying their moments in the spotlight, and the Geoffrey Mitchell Choir contributes enthusiastically to our enjoyment. 

Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor at Culturekiosque.com. Please click here to access his archive of CD and DVD reviews.

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