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CD Review: New Recordings of Rare and Unusual Operas

By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 23 November 2001

Handel: Arminio
Vivica Genaux (Arminio); Geraldine McGreevy (Tusnelda); Dominique Labelle (Sigismondo); Manuela Custer (Ramise); Luigi Petroni (Varo); Sytse Buwalda (Tullio); Riccardo Ristori (Segeste)
Il Complesso Barocco
Alan Curtis (conductor)
Veritas 7243 5 45461 2 9 (2 CDs; texts and translations in English, French and German)

Handel: Arminio

Handel's Arminio has been the butt of some of the most negative reactions, though conductor Alan Curtis comes to the work's defense. The story is typically complicated, made even more so by the streamlined libretto that omits much of the motivation, but that is irrelevant next to the musical riches. Alongside the usual da capo arias, Handel varies the forms considerably so that the ear never tires. A mostly unfamiliar cast validates the faith placed in them. Vivica Genaux in the title role shows off her burnished mezzo (reminiscent of Marilyn Horne) to great advantage. Dominique Labelle in the soprano castrato role impresses in both velocity and feeling. Geraldine McGreevy's heroine encompasses the various facets of her role. Why, however, was a countertenor cast in a role written for a female voice, particularly as he shares most of the flaws of the tribe (monochrome and limited). Manuela Custer sings neatly but without involving us. Alan Curtis marshalls his forces impressively, imparting strength to all.

Rossini: Moïse et Pharaon
Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz (Anaï); Mariana Pentcheva (Sinaïde); Enkelejda Shkosa (Marie); Charles Workman (Aménophis); Luigi Petroni (Eliézer); Cesare Catani (Aufide); Michele Pertusi (Moïse); Eldar Aliev (Pharaon); Riccardo Ferrari (Osiride)
Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale of Bologna
Wladimir Jurowski, conductor
8 027089 100133 (3 cds; notes in Italian and English; texts and translations in Italian, French, English and German)

Rossini: Tancredi
Darina Takova (Amenaide); Daniela Barcellona (Tancredi); Laura Polverelli (Isaura); Giuseppina Piunti (Roggiero); Giuseppe Filanoti (Argirio); Simone Alberghini (Orbazzano)
Prague Chamber Choir; ORT-Orchestra della Toscana
Gianluigi Gelmetti, conductor
8 027089 100232 (3 cds; notes in Italian and English; texts and translations in Italian, French, English and German) (distributed by Foné)

Recordings emanating from the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro have been available over the years on various record labels, but the Festival has now taken matters into its own hands, with the help of a distributor, Foné. Moïse et Pharaon is here receiving its première on disc, in a performance that may not be ideal but has the merit of preserving the composer's vision of the work, something not attained in the numerous recordings of the opera translated into Italian. Michele Pertusi is not the imposing bass we are used to hearing as Moses, but his intelligence and excellent French compensate. Eldar Aliev as his antagonist, similarly deprived of his aria, contrasts sufficiently. Mariana Pentcheva (Sinaïde) and Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz (Anaï) are also a well-contrasted pair, even though the latter may be somewhat light-voiced for a dramatic role. The bleating tenor of Charles Workman (Aménophis) has the virtue of being stylistically aware. Wladimir Jurowski may not immediately spring to mind as a Rossini conductor, but he maintains the tension even where there is danger of sagging. The sound is excellent, even though we hear the turning of pages quite distinctly.

Whether Tancredi should have been released, especially on three discs, is another story as the performance would easily have fit on two as one of Argirio's arias is cut. The competition is rough, but Daniela Barcellona in the title role is up to the competition. The solid soprano of Darina Takova restores the inherent drama to the role of Amenaide. The young Giuseppe Filanoti is another entrant to the Rossini tenor competition, offering a pleasant, well-schooled voice, able to cope with the difficulties. Gianluigi Gelmetti's credentials are not belied. A further selling point is the excellent and extensive notes provided for each album.

Smetana: Dalibor
Eva Urbanova (Milada); Dagmar Schellenberger (Jitka); Valerij Popov (Dalibor); Valentin Prolat (Vitek); Valeri Alexejev (Wladislaw); Jiri Kalendovsky (Beneš); Damir Basyrov (Budivoj)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Lirico di Cagliari
Yoram David (conductor)
Dynamic CDS 295/1-2 (2 CDs notes in Italian, English, French and German; texts and translations in Czech, Italian and English)

Smetana: Dalibor

Tchaikovsky: Cherevichki
Ekaterina Morosova (Oksana); Ludmila Semciuk (Solocha); Valerij Popov (Vakula); Albert Schagidulin (Bes/Master of Ceremonies); Vladimir Ognovenko (Cub); Valentin Prolat (Panas); Barseg Tumanyan (Pan Golova); Gergory Osipov (His Supreme Highness); Vladimir Okenko (Schoolmaster)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatrico Lirico di Cagliari
Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (conductor)
Dyanamic CDS 287/1-3 (3 CDs notes in Italian, English, French and German; texts and translations in Cyrillic, Italian and English)

Tchaikovsky: Cherevichki

Who would have thought that the provincial capital of Sardinia was capable of producing such superlative performances. Cherevichki is especially noteworthy as the work-to the best of my knowledge-has only previously been available on CD as a reissue of a late-40s Soviet recording (Preiser). Little expense was spared in assembling a Russian-speaking cast, with a Russian conductor whose command of this repertory is legendary, so that we can enjoy this unlikely Tchaikovsky opera, a comic fantasy, with a witch and a cheerful devil both flying around on brooms, snowstorms, magic powers thwarted by the hero. Ekaterina Morosova's heroine, Oksana, is full of charm, while Valerij Popov's Vakula has more voice on record than in the theater. Albert Schagidullin's Devil (Bes) is suitably comic, while Ludmila Semciuk's Witch (Solocha, who is also Vakula's mother) enjoys her quintet with various admirers stuffed in coal sacks. Vladimir Ognovenko and Barseg Tumanyan are luxury bass casting. Highly recommended for those eager to study a neglected element of the Tchaikovskyan monument.

With Smetana's Dalibor the situation is somewhat different as there are several recordings readily available. Where this one scores is with Eva Urbanova in the title role, her brand of exciting vocalism shining out. Her colleagues are all equally effective, but severe cuts-perhaps necessary in the context of a live performance-disfigure an otherwise fascinating document.

Zemlinsky: Der Traumgörge
Patricia Racette (Gertraud); Iride Martinez (Grete); Susan Anthony (Prinzessin); David Kuebler (Görge); Andreas Schmidt (Hans); Zelotes Edmund Toliver (Der Müller/Mathes); Michael Volle (Kaspar); Julian Rodescu, Machiko Obata, Lothar Odinius, Natalie Karl, John C. Pierce
Gürzenich-Orchester Kölner Philharmoniker
Opernchor der Hochschule für Musik Köln
James Conlon (conductor)
EMI 7243 5 57087 2 4 (2 CDs; ; texts and translations in German, French and English)

Zemlinsky: Der Traumgörge

Once again James Conlon places us in his debt with his devotion to Zemlinsky. An earlier recording of Der Traumgörge used an edition that Gustav Mahler had edited, whereas Conlon has gone back to the sources, so that the work is now considerably longer and at the same time makes more sense musically and dramatically. Zemlinsky's tale of the dreamer who finally comes down to earth is given a performance that only helps to increase the composer's stature. David Kuebler in the title role may lack heroic ring but his sensitivity is almost as important an element. Patricia Racette, Susan Anthony and Iride Martinez embody various female elements, with the first-named shining in her more important role. The various baritones and basses are all excellent, while the Cologne forces are driven to fever-pitch by the conductor.

Related Articles: Rossini at the Ritz

Handel According to William Christie, Renée Fleming, Marc Minkowski, Maria Bayo and Skip Sempé

.Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor of Culturekiosque.com.

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