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Volume 11 Issue 7 - April 2006

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Haendel - Hercules Des

Haendel - Hercules Des Arts Florisants; William Christie Bel Air Classiques BAC013 Rameau - Les Paladins Les Arts Forissants OpusArte OA 0938 D DISCS OF THE MONTH - OPERA Ballets takes up a good part of the score of Rameau 's comedie lyrique, and here the dancing permeates the whole production with its witty, virtuosic innovations - hardly surprising since choreographer Jose Montalvo is also the stage director, set designer and video producer, while his co-choreographer Dominique Hervieu also designed the outlandish costumes. An accompanying documentary, Baroque that Rocks, is interesting, though it sheds little light on the proceedings. Many of the fine singers, like the charis- matic Sandrine Piau and Laurent Naouri, are long-time Christie regulars. In the pit, Christie, aided by the savvy musicians of his peri- od instrument ensemble, Les Arts Floris- sants, as well as the focused camera-work, prevents the on-stage mayhem from over- These two productions of baroque operatic works could not be more different from each other. Yet they are both unmistakably the work of early music pioneer William Christie, whose flair for baroque music remains unsurpassed today . In this staging of Handel's tragic musical drama Hercules, emotions are bared, whereas in Rameau's playfully mannered Les Paladins, it is the bodies (of dancers, not singers) that are bared. ., whelming his distinctively elegant, incisive Bringing Handel's musical style. searing musical dra- Pamela Margles ma to the stage, director Luc Bondy sets Hercules' death at the hands of his jealous, demented wife Dejanira in a Greek amphitheatre, with high prison-like walls and a sandcovered floor. The muted costumes reinforce the contrast between Hercules' military glory and his emotional failures at home. The music is allowed Handel - 3 Portraits to control the action, which is mainly psychological, of Mezzo-Soprano Heroines making for the kind of riveting oper­ Maria Riccarda Wesseling atic experience rarely captured on video. The Claves 50-2504 small cast is electric, with Joyce Didonato as Dejanira dominating. Her Resign thy club drips with innuendo. Bondy treats each member of the luminous Les Arts Florissants chorus as an individual, with his or her own particular relationship with the principal singers. This rich dramatic interplay makes it all the more effective when the whole chorus launches into the powerful fugue following the finger-pointing of Jealousy! Infernal pest! Les Paladins shows how a resolutely contemporary staging of an opera from quite another time can be outrageously provocative, without indulging in on-stage violence or gratuitously crude gestures. What we get in this imaginative multimedia extravaganza are lots of animals, from lions and kangaroos to peacocks and rabbits, as well as subway trains and invisible trampolines, all embellished with Monty Python-style animations, and displayed with good-humoured ebullience. 78 Mezzo-soprano is considered the "dark voice" . Just as the "good guys" always wear white; it's the sopranos who sing the virgins, the innocents, and the unjustly maltreated. In the operatic tradition that continues to this day , the mezzo is reserved for madness, cruelty and tragedy. Fortunately, the sumptuous tones of the low voice usually emanate from the characters that are a whole lot more interesting than their milquetoast counterparts. Medea, Eboli, Azucena, Carmen - these are the mad, bad, sad and wonderful mezzo roles. This voice is naturally more conducive to anguish, anger and despair than the sweetly toned soprano. Among many composers to take advantage of this Rossini, Vivaldi and Handel stand out. Handel in particular endowed many of his female characters with some of the most powerful mezzo writing. Take Medea, the tormented child- killing avenger, whose terrible story is well known through the works of Cherubini and others. And Dejanira, the tragic wife of Hercules. Or Radamisto's Zenobia - these dames are trouble! The controlled mezzo of Maria Riccarda Wesseling handles the challenge well, though you might wish she' d let the emotions carry her on. In WWW. TH EWHOLENOTE,COM this case, her voice is almost too controlled - though there is no disputing its beauty. The Lautten Compagney Berlin, under Wolfang Katschner delivers some of the most translucent period performances, intricate and delicate at once, like a piece of vintage lace. This is a "concept" album - it works best if you are willing to listen with compassion to the mournful tales of a jilted lover, a jealous wife or an infanticidal sorceress. Robert Tomas Opera Recital Rolando Villazon; Miinchner Rundfunkorchester; Michel Plasson Virgin Classics 6 344733 2 Rolando Villaz6n's burnished sound, superb technique and unusual dramatic intensity easily place him at the forefront of today's crop of tenors. Having previously recorded a recital devoted to Gounod and Massenet arias, he casts a wider net with this disc, which covers fifteen arias from ten composers in four different languages. Considering the scope and variety, Villaz6n handles the challenges with consistent success, whether tackling the elegant be! canto of Donizetti's "Com' e gentil" from Don Pasquale or the declamatory passion of Giordano's "Amor ti vieta" from Fedora. Many of the roles surveyed are ones Villaz6n has not performed on stage, and even if he always displays full command of the music and character, the disc occasionally feels more like a test for which roles he should add to his growing repertoire instead of a cohesive and logical selection of arias. He excels in the lyrical roles like Offenbach's Hoffman, Tchaikovsky 's Lensky (even if his Russian is imperfect) , Bizet's Nadir, and Strauss' s Italian Tenor. Roles like Ernani, Cavaradossi, Turiddu, and Don Jose ideally require more heft than Villaz6n can provide, but these performances of excerpted arias give consistent pleasure. The veteran conductor Michel Plasson brings superb orchestral support and structural uniformity. The CD is accompanied by a DVD which shows offVillaz6n's spunky off-stage personality and his ability to overcome the superficial aspects of the recording studio. Highly recommended for Villaz6n's tremendous vocal powers, if not for innovative programming. Seth Estrin A PR IL 1 - M AY 7 2006

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