OperaNet: Reviews
You are in:  Home > Opera > Reviews   •  Archives   •  send page to a friend

CD Review: Dive and Divi

By Joel Kasow

PARIS, 7 October 2002

Bel Canto: Roberto Alagna (tenor)
with Angela Gheorghiu (soprano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
London Voices
Evelino Pido, conductor

Arias by Donizetti: Poliuto, La Favorite, Don Pasquale, Roberto Devereux, Dom Sébastien, L'Elisir d'Amore, La Fille du Régiment; Bellini: La Sonnambula, Il Pirata, Norma, I Puritani

EMI 7243 5 57302 2 0 (texts in English, French and German)

BEL CANTO: Roberto Alagna

Roberto Alagna's latest solo recital album, with a little help from his friends, is slightly puzzling in its composition. While supporting singers and chorus are present in certain selections, others neglect the written version so we hear a romanza without its perticchini ("Sogno soave e casto" from Don Pasquale).. The aria from Poliuto is missing its first part, so that we go from recitative to cabaletta, while the Devereux aria is missing its cabaletta. The aria from Pirata is missing its initial recitative and cabaletta, while that from Norma is shorn of the section between aria and cabaletta, resulting in an awkward jump. That aside, I believe this is the first time that the tenor has been so generous with high notes, previously not his strong point, and there are lots of them, Cs, D flats and Ds, all hit spot on. We could mention occasional sobs, an occasional reluctance to sing softly when required (flagrant in the extracts from Elisir d'Amore), but he nonetheless manages to sing softly with greater frequency than many of his colleagues. The selections in French once again indicate that this is Alagna's strong suit, though we have always wondered why so few tenors follow the score of Fille, which indicates that the words "Pour mon âme" in the famous selection with all the high Cs should be sung with the last word split in two syllables, to rhyme with "flamme", the tenor offering a new version where he stretches "âme" over two notes but still a single syllable, while "flamme" is correctly given its two separate syllables. In short, a recital to be listened to with interest, while regretting that Alagna too often foregoes a certain elegance that is an essential part of "bel canto". Conductor Evelino Pido's support of the singer is more than commendable.

While I Dream : Barbara Bonney (soprano)
Antonio Pappano (piano)

Songs by Liszt and Schumann (Dichterliebe)

Decca 470 289-2 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

While I Dream : Barbara Bonney

As we state further on in other contexts, we have nothing against artists seeking to widen their artistic horizons, enlarging their fach, as it were. In this particular instance, the much-admired Barbara Bonney goes much further afield than others have dared. Women have occasionally sung Schubert's Winterreise (a man's cycle), but not since Brigitte Fassbaender has a woman ventured onto the difficult terrain of Schumann's Dichterliebe. The unvarying palette becomes wearying, while Antonio Pappano has little exceptional to say from the keyboard. The Liszt songs are marginally better, but even then Bonney's bright tones alternating with the necessary dips down to the bottom register do not offer the rewards that we find in her interpretations of other composers more congenial to her talents, e.g. Mozart, Schubert, even Wolf.

Wagner - Scenes from the Ring: Placido Domingo (tenor)
Natalie Dessay (soprano); Violeta Urmana (mezzo); David Cangelosi (tenor)
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Antonio Pappano, conductor

Excerpts from Siegfried and Gotterdämmerung

EMI 7243 5 57242 2 9 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Wagner - Scenes from the Ring: Placido Domingo

Placido Domingo's latest Wagnerian incursion offers ample proof that he might have made a stunning Siegfried in his quest to become the universal tenor. Though criticised in some circles for venturing outside his fach (see below), for singing German with an accent (not as disturbing as the havoc he wreaks on the French language), he shows that the music is not harmed by a warmer, Mediterranean approach. One must also state that the music lies comfortably for him these days, and rarely have we heard it sung like this in the last fifty years. The other singers more than fulfil their tasks, David Cangelosi as Mime during the last scene of Act One (the Forging song), Natalie Dessay as the Voice of the Bird at the end of Act Two and Violeta Urmana as Brünnhilde in the duet from the Prologue to Gotterdämmerung leading to Siegfried's Rhine Journey. Urmana has cautiously begun tackling the soprano repertoire, but will she embrace it fully as have others before her? Antonio Pappano and the Covent Garden Orchestra offer solid support, so that it would be interesting to hear what the conductor would make of a Ring Cycle in its entirety.

Bel Canto: Renée Fleming (soprano)
Kristine Jepson (mezzo)
Orchestra of St. Luke's
Coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Patrick Summers, conductor

Arias by Bellini: La Sonnambula, Il Pirata; Donizetti: Maria Padilla, Lucrezia Borgia; Rossini: Armida, Semiramide

Decca 467 101-2 (texts and translations in French and Italian, though presumably in English for the English-speaking world)

Bel Canto: Renée Fleming

Renée Fleming possesses one of the most beautiful soprano voices to be heard today. She has been harshly criticised for her ventures outside her fach. While we have always admired singers who do not wish to be pigeon-holed, Ms. Fleming in our eyes is here beyond her limits, not because she is technically at a loss but because of her tendency (upon which we have already commented) to indulge in exaggerated portamenti resulting in unsightly bulges in the vocal line. It is instructive to set Fleming alongside other recent interpreters (leaving aside Maria Callas) in alternative versions of the arias she has chosen (Caballé for Armida and Pirata, Miricioiu for Lucrezia Borgia) to hear how much better the music sounds when sung with straightforward tone. Fleming's advisor for vocal decoration, Philip Gossett, tends to err in the direction of over-elaboration, though it is to his credit that he has established that Bellini's manuscript of Sonnambula shows that what has come down to us in all the printed versions of the cabaletta-finale is in fact the second verse, a much simpler reading being preferred the first time around. Excellent notes by Fleming, Patrick Summers and Gossett are full of information, but may I point out that the reinstated passage in the aria from Maria Padilla was already included in the Opera Rara recording of the work. Kristine Jepson is present for the filler lines in the Padilla excerpt, but no one does that job in the other excerpts.

Arias For Farinelli : Vivica Genaux (mezzo)
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

René Jacobs, conductor

Arias by Porpora, Hasse, Broschi, Giacomelli

Harmonia Mundi HMC 901778 (texts and translations in Italian, English, French and German)

Arias For Farinelli : Vivica Genaux

Vivica Genaux is the heroine of this new album of hitherto mostly unrecorded music. She is one of a very few singers able to do justice to all the facets of the much-vaunted castrato Farinelli, most of which are on display in this magnificent album. There are long slow laments, bravura calls to arms, nocturnal reflections….Not all the music is at the same level as Handel or Bach or Scarlatti, but that was not the goal in the 18th century. Operas came and went, but successful arias were trundled around from place to place. Under the guidance of René Jacobs, a connoisseur of the period, Genaux never overdoes the ornamentation, but her virtuoso technique gives her full mastery over the demands made upon her in this repertoire. Added to our pleasure is the unique sound of Ms. Genaux and the remarkable notes by René Jacobs ("There are no castratos left: What now?") and Reinhardt Strohm ("Who is Farinelli?"), the latter especially necessary after the film that was little more than a travesty of musical history.

Airs français: Ben Heppner (tenor)
London Symphony Orcestra
Myung-Whun Chung, conductor

Arias by Berlioz (Les Troyens, Damnation de Faust, Benvenuto Cellini, Béatrice et Bénédict); Halévy (La Juive); Massenet (Sapho, Le Cid); Meyerbeer (L'Africaine, Les Huguénots, Le Prophète); La Marseillaise (arr. By Berlioz)

DGG 471 372-2 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Airs français: Ben Heppner

Ben Heppner is one of the few tenors around today able to do justice to a neglected repertory, his French more than acceptable, alongside an elevated stylistic sense. He can lighten his voice for the aria from Béatrice et Bénédict, provide the heft for Les Troyens or Le Cid, and thrill us in the full versions of the aria from L'Africaine and La Juive. Some of the arias are familiar from other recent recital albums or even recordings from the past, but such a collection is not only instructive but also a joy to listen to. Myung-Whun Chung once again demonstrates that he understands the operatic world but has sufficient input of his own. Let us hope that the tenor is fully recovered from whatever was behind his spate of cancellations earlier this year, because singing such as this deserves the widest possible audience, both live and at home.

Bach - Arias and cantatas: Gérard Lesne (countertenor)
Il Seminario Musicale

Works by Johann Michael Bach, Johann Christoph Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Melchior Hoffmann

Astrée Naïve E 8873 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Bach - Arias and cantatas: Gérard Lesne

Gérard Lesne once again places us in his debt with this program of music not only by Johann Sebastian Bach, but also by two cousins of his father, one of whom was also the father of Johann Sebastian's first wife. Alongside the well-known cantata, BWV 54, Johan Christoph's "Wie bist Du denn, O Gott" sets off the singer's talent, at the same time permitting the instrumentalists to shine. Lesne's awareness of the various composers' word painting is vividly brought to life. One might complain about the close miking, but that is a commonplace today against which it seems impossible to battle. Fortunately, Lesne and Il Seminario Musicale easily overcome this slight flaw.

Mascagni - Heroines: Denia Mazzola Gavazzeni (soprano)
Orchestre National de Montpellier L.-R.
Enrique Diemecke, conductor

Arias from I Rantzau, Nerone, Le Maschere, Pinotta, Zanetto, Guglielmo Ratcliff, Il piccolo Marat, L'Amico Fritz, Isabeau, Iris, Parisina, Lodoletta, plus A Giacomo Leopardi (cantata)

Actes-Sud AD 124 (2 cds: notes only in English and French)

Mascagni - Heroines: Denia Mazzola Gavazzeni

This homage to one of today's under-appreciated singers is welcome, though without the texts of any of the arias we are at a bit of a loss in following her through the byways of a prolific composer, mostly famous as the composer of Cavalleria Rusticana, with miniscule nods in the directions of L'Amico Fritz and Iris. Actes-Sud also fails us in not giving details as to date and place of recording, the excerpts from Parisina obviously coming from the already-issued complete recording, the remainder unclear. Those complaints out of the way, this is a noteworthy release for what it tells us about Mascagni, and also for what it tells us about Denia Mazzola Gavazzeni, a soprano whose early career in the "bel canto" repertoire has admirably prepared her for the verismo school. Perhaps one is more aware of some vocal defects without the singer's physical presence, but her communicative gift nonetheless shines through.

Anne Sofie von Otter - Lieder & Mélodies: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo)
); Christina Högman (soprano); Kristina Hammerström (mezzo)
Melvyn Tan (fortepiano); Nils-Erik Sparf (violin); Eric Hoeprich (clarinet

Meyerbeer; Beethoven; Spohr

Archiv 469 074-2 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Mots d'Amour - Cécile Chaminade: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo)
Bengt Forsberg (piano); Nils-Erik Sparf (violin); Peter Jablonski (piano)

Mélodies; Pieces for violin and piano; Pieces for two pianos

DGG 471 331-2 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Mots d'Amour - Cécile Chaminade: Anne Sofie von Otter

There are few musical domains in which Anne Sofie von Otter has not had her say, but when it comes to the world of song, she seems to be at home in every corner. The album devoted to Cécile Chaminade reveals a composer deserving more than her reputation as merely a creator of works for the "salon". Her piano pieces have more easily survived than her vocal compositions. The moods encompassed in the vocal selections are wide-ranging and the appeal immediate. Chaminade could write a good tune and swinging accompaniment, talents that should not be denigrated. Not especially noted for her taste in poetry, the composer nonetheless succeeds, whether in the dance rhythms of the "Ronde d'amour" or "Nice-la-belle," or the "Menuet" with violin obbligato, or the more serious songs such as "L'Anneau d'Argent" or "Ma première lettre" (perhaps her two best-known songs). Von Otter brings just the right touch of lightness, avoiding the archness that a Felicity Lott would impose and yet never overly literal. Bengt Forsberg revels in his discoveries, conveying his enthusiasm to his various partners.

Von Otter's disc devoted to Myerbeer, Beethoven and Spohr is slightly less adventurous, most of the songs previously recorded: Meyerbeer by Thomas Hampson, the Spohr set with violin obbligato by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Beethoven by several singers. The mezzo brings a lightness to certain songs that eludes her baritone colleagues, while there is little to fault in her Italian, French or German. Beethoven's songs are not the most significant element of his output, but "Adelaïde" rises far above the others, her interpretation perhaps a bit reined in, but the Meyerbeer items are occasionally reminiscent of Rossini's output in this domain and for these the mezzo is ideal. The Spohr set includes a setting of Erlkönig which will not replace Schubert, but the simplicity of the singer's approach is welcome. Melvyn Tan's fortepiano offers just the right support for this repertoire, never intrusive, though he occasionally has a stormy introduction to show off his talents. The two other singers are present for a two-minute "Prière des enfants", nowhere indicated on the cover or the booklet, while the instrumentalists, clarinettist Erich Hoeprich for Meyerbeer's "Schäfers Lied" and Nils-Erik Spark for the Spohr set, could not be bettered.

Mozart - Opera Arias: Sandrine Piau (soprano)
Freiburger Barockorchester.
Gottfried von der Goltz, conductor

Arias from Lucio Silla, Die Zauberflöte, Il re pastore, Mitridate; Entführung, Clemenza di Tito, Zaïde

Astrée Naïve E 8877 (texts and translations in English, French and German)

Mozart - Opera Arias: Sandrine Piau

Sandrine Piau took her first steps in the baroque world, and listeners may already have encountered her work in recordings of Rameau with William Christie and Handel as well as Mozart's Mitridate with Christophe Rousset. In the ten arias on this cd she has ample opportunity to display her range, from the naïve utterance of Servilia, the plaintive dignity of Pamina or Zaïde, to the more complicated emotions of Giunia or Aspasia. Often cast in soubrette roles, Piau has the vocal and dramatic power for the serious roles, although she refrains from tackling the ultimate killer, "Martern aller Arten." Her performances of Konstanze's other two arias, however, offer an excellent introduction to the artist: her command of line is always in evidence and the technical challenges are easily met. The Freiburger Barockorchester sets a brisk pace under the leadership of its first violinist, Gottfried von der Goltz, putting as much feeling into the accompanied recitatives (four) as Mme Piau.

German Romantic Arias: Thomas Quasthoff (bass-baritone)
Christiane Oelze (soprano)
Orchester der Deutscher Oper Berlin
Christian Thielemann, conductor

Arias by: Lortzing (Zar und Zimmermann, Der Wildschütz); Weber (Euryanthe); Wagner (Tannhäuser); Strauss (Der schweigsame Frau)

DGG 471 493-2 (texts and translations in French and English)

Bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff offers a program of uncommon music, largely eschewing the familiar so that we are aware of a gamut of talents, from the comic to the serious. We are never in doubt as to his technical prowess, put to the test in some of the Lortzing items, while his ability to caress a legato line remains a pleasure to hear. The darkness of Lysiart, the villain in Euryanthe, is given full measure as the singer navigates a treacherous vocal line. We might have done without the narration of Landgraf Hermann in order to hear what Quasthoff might have done with the monologues of Hans Sachs or the rest of Wolfram's music, not to mention Wotan's farewell, but that is quibbling. Christian Thielemann and the Orchester der Deutsche Oper Berlin lend noble support. Christiane Oelze's contribution to a duet from Der Wildschütz lends a bit of variety to the disc.

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

If you value our reviews, please tell a friend or join our mailing list!

Back to Operanet CD review archives | Back to Operanet Home Page

email to Joel Kasow | | Back to Culturekiosque

Copyright © 1996 - 2002 Culturekiosque Publications Ltd
All Rights Reserved