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CD Review: A Christmas Garland

By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 22 December 2001

Gluck: Italian Arias
Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano)
Bernhard Forck (leader)
Akademie für alte Musik Berlin
Decca 467 248-2 (texts and translations in English, French, German and Italian)

Cecilia Bartoli: Gluck Italian Arias

Once again the Bartoli miracle transpires. Eight arias, most of which are receiving world premiere recordings, are brought to life by Cecilia Bartoli, in her most enthusiastically communicative vein. Prior to Orfeo ed Euridice, the first of the "reform" operas, Gluck wrote several works to texts by Metastasio, the wordsmith of this album. As with her earlier Vivaldi album, Bartoli has alternated vigorous and languorous music to good effect-listen to track 7, an aria for Sesto from Clemenza di Tito that was later reworked for Iphigénie en Tauride but is here heard in its full 11-minute glory. The Akademie für alte Musik Berlin is a worthy partner, making the most of the virtuoso writing.

Rossini: Opera arias and overtures
Maria Bayo (soprano)
Rinaldo Alessandrini (conductor)
Concerto Italiano
Astrée Naïve E 8853 (texts and translations in English, French, Italian and Spanish)

Maria Bayo is another diminutive singer who, like Cecilia Bartoli, gives performances that are never diminutive. Here she has found an ideal partner in Rinaldo Alessandrini and the Concerto Italiano, where the period instruments and style give another flavor to Rossini's music than we usually hear. Of the eight tracks on the disc, two are overtures, while the six arias come from La scala di seta, L'inganno felice, La gazza ladra, Tancredi and Barbiere di Siviglia, not only "Una voce poco fa" but also the replacement aria written for Joséphine Fodor-Mainville previously recorded by Beverly Sills and Mariella Devia. Bayo captures the essence of the different heroines, from the despair of Amenaïde's prayer in prison, to the minxishness of Rosina.

Puccini: Tosca
Angela Gheorghiu (Tosca); Roberto Alagna (Cavaradossi); Ruggiero Raimondi (Scarpia); Maurizio Muraro (Angelotti); Enrico Fissore (Sagrestano); David Cangelosi (Spoletta); Sorin Coliban (Sciarrone); Gwynne Howell (Jailer); James Savage Hanford (Shepherd)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden
Antonio Pappano (conductor)
EMI 5 57216 2 (2 CDs - texts and translations in French and Italian; it is a certainty that copies released elsewhere will have English and German translations)

Puccini: Tosca

Alongside the film of Puccini's opera Tosca, EMI offer the soundtrack in its untrafficked state, i.e. with the voices always in the same perspective rather than moving about. Angela Gheorghiu's heroine works well on disc, but one wonders if she has the power for such a role in the theater. She understands the capricious diva and succeeds in convincing us of her feminine power. Roberto Alagna's Cavaradossi has the power when required, but also the tenderness for such moments as "O dolci mani". Ruggiero Raimondi's voice shows few signs of wear, but Scarpia's vocal demands are not onerous. The problem lies with Antonio Pappano's ponderous reading, though the Covent Garden forces are at their peak, orchestral solos superbly rendered.

Verdi - Domingo: The tenor arias
Placido Domingo (tenor); Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Leonard Bernstein, Myung-Whun Chung, Edward Downes, Lamberto Gardelli, Valery Gergiev, Carlo Maria Giulini, Herbert von Karajan, Carlos Kleiber, Eugene Kohn, James Levine, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti, Nello Santi, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Georg Solti, Arturo Tamayo (conductors); various orchestras
DGG 471 335-2 (4 cds; texts and translations in English, French and German)

Verdi - Domingo: The tenor arias

To commemorate the centennial of the death of Giuseppe Verdi, DGG has gone fishing not only in its own catalogue, but in those of Philips, EMI and RCA, so that we have excerpts from the complete opera recordings in which Placido Domingo has participated for all those labels, but also recitals, while at least a fourth of the contents consists of new recordings led by either Myung-Whun Chung or Valery Gergiev. The earliest recording are excerpts from Ballo and Boccanegra dating from 1968, while the Chung and Gergiev recordings were made in 1999 and 2000 to complete the collection. It is clear that end-of-career Domingo no longer possesses freedom at the top of his range, something that was always his Achilles' heel, but we do have the distinctive timbre. In addition to the standard collection, Domingo gives us the alternate versions of arias that Verdi wrote for specific singers or for specific productions, something we have heard in part from Luciano Pavarotti and Ramon Vargas. While we may lament that Domingo did not ask one of his younger colleagues or protégés to sing the arias from Giorno di Regno or Falstaff, which require an ease that is no longer his to command, the completeness of this issue is but one of its merits, for it is a worthy tribute not only to Verdi but also to one of the major singers of our time.

Donizetti: Gli Esiliati in Siberia
Brigitte Hahn (Elisabetta); Christine Neithardt-Barbaux (Fedora); Alessandra Palomba (Maria); Luca Canonici (Potoski); Alfonso Antoniozzi (Michele); Nikola Mijailovic (Gran Maresciallo); Valery Ivanov (Iwano); Jérome Varnier (Alterkan); Yann Beuron (Imperator)
Orchestre National de Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon
Choeur de la Radio lettone
Enrique Diemecke (conductor) - recorded 12 July 1999
Actes Sud AT 34108 (2 CDs; texts and translations in English, French and Italian)

Donizetti: Gli Esiliati in Siberia

Richard Strauss: Elektra
Hildegard Behrens (Elektra); Luana DeVol (Chrysothemis); Leonie Rysanek (Klytämnestra); Daniel Galvez-Vallejo (Aegisth); Wolfgang Schöne (Orest); Monique Barscha, Fernand Dumont, Uwe Peper, Sibyl Zanganelli, Dalia Schächter, Liliana Nichiteanu, Hanna Schaer, Mireille Delunsch
Orchestre National de Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon
Friedemann Layer (conductor) - recorded 3 August 1995

Richard Strauss: Elektra

Actes Sud has once again issued performances from the Festival de Radio France et de Montpellier, one aimed at the collector of unusual works and the other at collectors of historic occasions. The former is a work by Gaetano Donizetti, one he revised on several occasions during his life, as is admirably detailed in the notes by Alexander Weatherson. Brigitte Hahn as the put-upon heroine who has to traverse Siberia to request that her father be pardoned may not have quite the range of the role's creatrice, Caroline Ungher, but her well-schooled soprano is always a delight. Alfonso Antoniozzi's Michele, a traditional buffo role, is the other major figure, with much to do throughout. Other singers make almost cameo appearances, though always with something substantial to sing. Tenor Luca Canonici is stretched slightly beyond his means in a tangential role that nonetheless has a major aria that holds up the action. Enrique Diemecke keeps everything moving, but this is a work that merits variorum treatment, Opera Rara did with its recording of the two versions of Emilia di Liverpool.

One might question the necessity of yet another version of Elektra, but this is the sole documentation of Leonie Rysanek's Klytämnestra, a performance sung for a change. Hildegard Behrens in the title role is in reasonable shape, but what seems to have been an exceptional event for those present does not entirely transmit itself to the listener at home

Related Articles: Rossini at the Ritz

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

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