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By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 7 AUGUST 2007 .

Mariotte: Salomé
Kate Aldrich (Salomé); Julia Juon (Hérodias); Delphine Galou (Page); Marcel Reijans (Le jeune syrien); Jean-Luc Chaignaud (Iokanaan); Scott Wilde (Hérode); Cyril Rovery (Premier soldat); Fabrice Mantégna (Deuxième soldat)
Orchestre National de Montpellier LR
Choeur de l’Opéra National de Montpellier LR
Friedemann Layer, conductor
Accord 442 8553 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Who? Alfred Mariotte? Well, yes, he was a sailor turned composer at the turn of the century, who happened upon Oscar Wilde’s play (originally written in French) and decided to set it, even though Richard Strauss’s version had already achieved notoriety. Knowing that primacy is often sufficient, Strauss convinced his publisher to allow performances of the competing work, courageously revived in July 2004 at the Festival de Radio France and Montpellier (a concert performance) and staged by the Opéra National de Montpellier 18 months later, at which time the current recording was made. And what do we have – a smaller orchestra so that singers are not necessarily swamped, an extraordinary humming chorus underneath Salomé’s final monologue, far fewer characters than in Strauss as a result of Mariotte cutting the piece in a different fashion. Kate Aldrich in the title role shows a solid mezzo, yet contrasting with the power exuded by Julia Juon as her mother. Jean-Luc Chaignaud’s Prophet is authoritative, though occasionally stretched by his utterances. Scott Wilde’s bass Herod takes some getting used to for those accustomed to the wiliness of Strauss’s tenor casting. Friedemann Layer and the Montpellier orchestra are in good form here and do their best at defending Mariotte’s vision against the Straussian juggernaut.


Beethoven: Fidelio ( The Originals Collection)  
Gundula Janowitz (Fidelio); Lucia Popp (Marzelline); René Kollo (Florestan); Adolfo Dallapozza (Jacquino); Hans Sotin (Pizarro); Manfred Jungwirth (Rocco); Hans Helm (Don Fernando); Karl Terkal (First Prisoner); Alfred Šramek (Second Prisoner)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Vienna Staatsoper
Leonard Bernstein, conductor
DGG 00440 DVD 073 4159 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Buy this one immediately. Leonard Bernstein in one of his far too infrequent operatic excursions is at his most galvanic, and he has a superb cast at his disposal. This is one operatic production in which the musical values are at such a high level that even the most amateurish production would easily be forgotten, but that is not the case as Otto Schenk’s production and his realization for TV – although traditional – make sure that we are totally absorbed in the action. Gundula Janowitz offers a good argument for casting the role with a lighter-voiced soprano than many think ideal for the role, but she has the needed flexibility, while her fabled chilliness is nowhere in evidence. Lucia Popp is a delicious Marzelline, captured in 1978 before she started taking on heavier roles. René Kollo may not be Jon Vickers (the nec plus ultra) but he stakes a notable claim on the role of Florestan. Hans Sotin sings out of the side of his mouth, so that Pizarro seems to snarl more than ever, while Manfred Jungwirth tries his best to be a lovable Rocco, though we may doubt his sudden conversion in the finale to good guy. But it is Bernstein at his best that makes this a supreme and sublime reading of a work that is still too often described as unstageworthy. 

Offenbach: Le Financier et le Savetier et autres délices…
Ghyslaine Raphanel (Aubépine); Eric Huchet (Larfaillou); Franck Thézan (Belazor); Frédéric Bialeki (Premier Invité)
Orchestre des Concerts Pasdeloup
Jean-Christophe Keck, conductor
Accord 442 8964 (texts and translations in English, French and German [notes only])

Jean-Christophe Keck (Mr. Offenbach in some circles) not only produces performing editions of the composer’s work (Contes d’Hoffmann in collaboration with Michael Kaye, La Grande-Duchesse, Die Rheinnixen …) but conducts as well, and this latest recording is our introduction to Le Financier et le Savetier, one of the many one-acters with just four characters, as prescribed by the law at the time of composition. Seven musical numbers compose the work, with much dialogue in between, poking fun at the nouveau riche. The cast invests their roles, with Ghyslaine Raphanel and her cohorts showing that it is entirely possible to be intelligible and musical at the same time. None of the men has a voice of star-quality, but their other attributes make them ideal. The délices include selections from Madame Favart, Les Bavards, Dragonette, L’Ile de Tulipatan, Fantasio and La Fille du Tambour Major. We are especially intrigued by L’Ile de Tulipatan , in which the heroine is played by a tenor and the hero by a soprano, and we hear the song of the heroine in which she explains why she likes the brass instruments, with much imitation. A delight.

Mercadante: Maria Stuarda, regina di Scozia (highlights)
Judith Howarth (Maria Stuarda); Jennifer Larmore (Olfredo); Manuela Custer (Carlo); Colin Lee (Ormondo); Pauls Putninš (Ferrondo)
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
Philharmonia Orchestra
Antonello Allemandi, conductor
Opera Rara ORR 241 (texts and translations in English and Italian)

Maria Stuarda is Mercadante’s sixth opera , premiered in 1821 when Rossini was the dominant force in Italian musical life. If you are expecting another take on the plot familiar to us from Schiller and Donizetti, you will be disappointed, for this version shows us a younger Maria whose favors are disputed by rival suitors. The title role was fashioned for the English soprano Elizabeth Feron, known for her virtuosity at either end of her considerable range. Judith Howarth, once described as a "helden-soubrette," has now become a more dramatic soprano while able to negotiate Mercadante’s wide-ranging vocal line that at times is best characterized as "demented." Jennifer Larmore as one of the suitors (Olfredo) has music that is every bit as complicated as that of the heroine to which she brings her familiar brio. Manuela Custer’s villain (Carlo) has a role that is every bit as wide-ranging vocally as Olfredo, allowing her to demonstrate her considerable vocal qualities.. Colin Lee continues to impress with his ease in high-lying tenor territory, but Pauls Putninš’s cavernous bass lacks the requisite focus for his music. Antonello Allemandi and the Philharmonia Orchestra seem to be enjoying themselves, particularly the solo violin, oboe and flute/piccolo (the last uncredited) who each have significant obbligato parts in three different arias. And once again Jeremy Commons gives us the context that enables us to understand the significance of a work that could too easily be dismissed.

Anna Netrebko (soprano) ; Rolando Villazón (tenor)
Staatskapelle Dresden
Nicola Luisotti, conductor
DGG 477 6457 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

The dream team strikes once again. Restricted to an aural perspective, we are more aware of Rolando Villazón’s genericness, however attractive the sound produced. Anna Netrebko is far more effective, the voice mirroring the emotion. The musical side fortunately strays from the conventional, offering three selections from the Italian repertoire, three from the French and in homage to the national origins of the singers, one in Russian and one in Spanish. The prize goes to the duet from Tschaikovsky’s Iolanta, an opera that eschews vocal grandstanding in favor of emotioin. Netrebko is of course on home territory here, and Villazón operates on the same plane. The duet from Luisa Fernanda also emphasizes the lyric element, and here Netrebko matches her partner. La Bohème, Lucia di Lammermoor and Rigoletto are daily fare for both singers, as are Manon and Roméo et Juliette, with Les Pêcheurs de Perles providing additional novelty. We are aware of the soprano’s coloratura capabilities, but in this recital the emphasis is on the lyric, a domain to which she is far better suited. Nicola Luisotti and the Staatskapelle Dresden provide a luxurious cushion in support.

Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor at Culturekiosque.com

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