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CD Stocking Stuffers for Christmas (Part one)
Ideal gifts for the inveterate opera lover, the nostalgic opera lover, for those who are conductor oriented, for the russophiles and for staunch feminist friends......

by Joel Kasow

Lyon, 18 December 1998 - The Christmas season is once more upon us, and the record industry has done its best to encourage us to unheard of bouts of extravagance, which this year we are perfectly willing to support.

For the inveterate opera lovers on your list, Decca's twofer series Rouge Opéra is picking its way through the back catalogue with several pleasant surprises and opportunities to reassess recordings that have acquired marginal reputations. All the releases come with bilingual (French and original language) librettos and interesting essays provided by L'Avant-Scène Opéra. Teresa Berganza's Italian girl has suffered because of her entourage, but rehearing tells us that Varviso's rhythms are springier than memory would have it, that Corena is not the worst Mustafa ever to have been heard and Alva's charm wins out over any technical deficiencies. Puccini's cowgirl is brought to full-blooded life by Tebaldi and del Monaco who spare neither their lungs nor our ear drums, but this has never been an opera in which subtlety has been a major factor.

Rossini: L'Italiana in Algeria
Teresa Berganza (Isabella); Luigi Alva (Lindoro); Fernando Corena (Mustafa); Rolando Panerai (Taddeo)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Silvio Varviso
, conductor
Decca 460 173-2 (2 cds)

Puccini: La Fanciulla del West
Renata Tebaldi (Minnie); Mario del Monaco (Dick Johnson); Cornell MacNeil (Jack Rance); Giorgio Tossi (Jake Wallace)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Academia Santa Cecilia
Franco Capuana
, conductor
Decca 460 170-2 (2 cds)

For the nostalgic opera lover, Naxos has obtained permission to reissue broadcasts from the 30s and 40s from the Metropolitan Opera, complete with the voice of Milton Cross. Particularly noteworthy are two releases featuring Bidú Sayão (also the subject of two welcome reissues on another label), a delightful singer who manages to be convincing in such disparate roles as Norina in Don Pasquale and Mélisande, though the cast and conductor of the former are not really in her league, while Singher's matter-of-fact Pelléas is offset by Tibbett's characterful Golaud and Kipnis's authoritative if accented Arkel. Be warned, there are substantial cuts in the Debussy, while the Donizetti suffers the "traditional" cuts.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande
Bidú Sayão (Mélisande); Margaret Harshaw (Geneviève); Martial Singher (Pelléas); Lawrence Tibbett (Golaud); Alexander Kipnis (Arkel)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Metropolitan Opera
Emil Cooper
, conductor
Naxos 8.110030-31 (2 cds)

Donizetti: Don Pasquale
Bidú Sayão (Norina); Nino Martini (Ernesto); Francesco Valentino (Malatesta); Salvatore Baccaloni (Don Pasquale)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Metropolitan Opera

Gennaro Papi
, conductor
Naxos 8.11022-3 (2 cds)

For those who are conductor oriented, there is lots of good news. Fans of Carlos Kleiber and of Verdi will rejoice at the mid-price reissue of Traviata, with Cotrubas at her best, not to mention the ubiquitous (at the time) Domingo and Milnes, part of DGG's Centenary Collection. Those for whom von Karajan can do little wrong will be pleased at EMI's release of part of the Salzburg Festival archives, this year giving us additional versions of three works that he also recorded at various stages of his career, but the advantage here is that we see the conductor taking risks in live performance that he would never have taken in the studio, which he regarded as his legacy. In addition we have the only documentation of Leonie Rysanek's contribution to the Verdi Requiem, alas not in her best state, and with the unfortunate bleatings of tenor Giuseppe Zampieri alongside expemplary performances by Christa Ludwig and Cesare Siepi. Leontyne Price and Fritz Wunderlich give an exulting Bruckner Te Deum, a sterling cast gives us a dream Beethoven Missa Solemnis, while who would not appreciate the opportunity to hear the angelic Lisa della Casa in Brahms.

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis
Leontyne Price, Christa Ludwig, Nicolai Gedda, Nicola Zaccaria
Vienna Philharmonic and Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Wien
Herbert von Karajan
, conductor
EMI 7243 5 66876 2 2 (2 cds) - 1959

Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem
Lisa della Casa, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Vienna Philharmonic and Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Wien
Herbert von Karajan
, conductor
EMI 7243 5 66879 2 9 - 1957

Verdi: Messa da Requiem
Bruckner: Te Deum
Leonie Rysanek, Christa Ludwig, Giuseppe Zampieri, Cesare Siepi/Leontyne Price, Hildegard Rössl-Majdan, Fritz Wunderlich, Walter Berry
Vienna Philharmonic and Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Wien
Herbert von Karajan
, conductor
EMI 7243 5 66880 2 5 (2 cds) - 1958/1960

Verdi: La Traviata
Ileana Cotrubas (Violetta); Placido Domingo (Alfredo); Sherrill Milnes (Germont)
Bavarian State Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Carlos Kleiber
, conductor
DGG 459 039-2 (2 cds)

For the Russophiles, there is excellent news. Philips has recorded the Kirov in two versions of Boris Godounov, the compact original version of 1869 and the expanded, grand opera of 1872: at five discs for the price of three, the bargain is indisputable. Nikolai Putilin is the higher-voiced Boris of the first version, which may well win converts to its concision; moreover, the version works onstage as one is inexorably drawn along. Vladimir Vaneev offers a more solid bass voice as the second Boris, with the added attraction of Olga Borodina's sultry Marina. Hearing the two versions in succession is instructive, particularly the scene in the Tsar's apartments which is almost entirely different. And, of course, Valery Gergiev is able to make us believe in the validity of both versions.

BMG's Melodiya catalogue has just been expanded to encompass opera. Gennady Rozhdestvensky's 1976 recording of Shostakovich's Nose makes a welcome return to the catalogue, allowing us to hear a seldom-encountered work that makes us regret the composer's withdrawal from the operatic world, as his cinematic approach, unusual at the time, is still a model for today's composers. The 1978 recording of the world premiere of the completed fragment of The Gamblers is additional cause for regret, as the stark approach never flags, nor does our attention, despite the absence of a libretto. Prokofiev's Betrothal in a Monastery has just benefitted from a technicolor recordings thanks to Gergiev, but Alexander Lazarev's previously unissued 1990 recording is nonetheless welcome as it is on two bargain discs rather than three at full price which almost makes up for the absence of a libretto and a less well-endowed cast. A twofer with Shostakovich's last two symphonies and five song cycles is no less welcome, especially in such authoritative performances; I would personally recommend that you listen first to the 8 English and American Folk Songs arranged by the composer which are as fascinating as the settings by Haydn or Beethoven of British folksongs.

Moussorgsky: Boris Godounov
1869: Nikolai Putilin (Boris); Viktor Lutsuk (Grigory)
1872: Vladimir Vaneev (Boris); Vladimir Galusin (Grigory); Olga Borodina (Marina); Evgeny Nikitin (Rangoni)
both versions: Nikolai Ohotnikov (Pimen); Konstantin Pluzhnikov (Shuisky); Fyodor Kuznetsov (Varlaam); Zlata Bulycheva (Fyodor; Vassili Gerello (Shchelkalov); Evgeny Akimov (Simpleton)
Kirov Orchestra and Chorus
Valery Gergiev
, conductor
Philips 462 230-2 (5 cds for the price of 3)

Prokofiev: Betrothal in a Monastery
Lyudmila Sergienko (Louisa); Marina Shutova (Clara); Galina Borisova (Duenna); Alexei Maslennikov (Don Jerome); Vladimir Redkin (Ferdinand); Arkady Mishenkin (Antonio); Mikhail Krutikov (Mendoza)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Bolshoi Theater, Moscow
Alexander Lazarev
, conductor
BMG Melodiya 74321 60318 2 (2 cds)

Shostakovich: The Gamblers
Vladimir Rybasenko (Alexei); Vladimir Tarkhov (Ikharyov); Valery Belykh (Gavryushka)
The Nose
Eduard Akimov (Kovalyov); Valery Belykh (Ivan Yakovlevich); Alexander Lomonosov (The Nose)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Moscow Chamber Theater
Gennady Rozhdestvensky
, conductor
BMG Melodiya 74321 60319 2 (2 cds)

Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 14 and 15; 6 Romances to texts by Japanese Poets; 4 Romances after Pushkin; 6 Romances to Texts by British Poets; 8 English and American Folk Songs
Makvala Kasrashvili, Elena Ivanovna, sopranos; Alexei Maslennikov, tenor; Sergei Yakovlenko, baritone; Anatoly Saifulin, bass
USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra
Gennady Rozhdestvensky
, conductor
BMG Melodiya 74321 59057 2 (2 cds)

Any friends who are staunch feminists would be delighted to have one or more of the following discs by women composers, particularly such individual figures as Nadia Boulanger who formed several generations of later composers after she had stopped composing herself, the suffragette Dame Ethyl Smyth or the now forgotten Cécile Chaminade or the virtually unknown Simone Féjard. Once you have gotten out of your "dead white male" train of thought, you might be surprised at the quality of music you can hear.

Boulanger: Les Heures Claires; Mélodies; 3 Pièces pour Violoncello et piano
Melinda Paulsen, mezzo
Friedemann Kupsa, cello
Angela Gassenhuber, piano
Troubadisc TRO-CD 01407

Smyth: Lieder, Op. 4; Lieder und Balladen, Op. 3; Three Moods of the Sea; Sonata for Cello and Piano
Maarten Koningsberger, baritone
Kelvin Grout, piano
Friedemann Kupsa, cello
Anna Silova, piano (Sonata)
Troubadisc TRO-CD 01417

Chaminade/Féjard: Mélodies
Ghyslaine Raphanel, soprano
Simone Féjard, piano
Maguelone 111.114

Proceed to CD Stocking Stuffers for Christmas (Part two)
Ideal gifts for the francophiles, those in search of past French treasures, for the inveterate explorers of byways,
or for those addicted the human voice in all its glory....

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