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Volume 14 - Issue 4 - December 2008

and is not over

and is not over populated. As Salome,Michael is elemental, blindly driven to relentlesslydemand instant gratification withunbridled energy. The Herod is not the traditionaloverweight sybarite as seen in the Londonproduction but an energetic, smaller fellowwho moves erratically. The entlfe productionis totally different from the London;simpler, more transparent, less horrifyingand, perhaps, more easily followed.Each version has its strengths but I preferthe Covent Garden cast, set, choreographyand costumes, and in no small way, the brillianceof the orchestra.Bruce SurteesEXTENDED PLAY -AS SEEN AT THE METBy Seth EstrinThe MetropolitanOpera in NewYork, under itsnew director PeterGelb, has made effortsin the last coupleof years to dispelcriticism that itprefers the old over the new:old-fashioned productionsover modernized ones, tried- "-'-=-~ ---'"-""=and-true singers over talented up-and-comers,and popular operas over new commissions .These six performances of six different operasboth testify to Gelb's efforts and show why theMet is one of the greatest opera houses in theworld . Not everything is perfect, but the levelof professionalism, the depth of the casting andthe consistent quality of these performances 1sexceptional. That these performances were recordedis thanks to what is perhaps Gelb's mostsuccessful innovation: live telecasts from theMet to movie theatres around the world. Preservedon DVD by EMI Classics, these performances,recorded over the last two seasons,retain the excitement of live performances. Theexcellent original intermission features are includedtoo, so we get live interviews with singers,conductors, and others involved in the productionsright as the opera is happening. Eventhese back-stage features are starrily cast -among the hosts are two of the world's most_famous sopranos, Renee Fleming and NataheDessay.Despite all this new energy, it is telling thatthe best of these performances is that of theMet's most performed opera, Puccini's La Bohemeconducted by Nicola Luisotti (2 174179). Franco Zeferelli's iconic production is _admittedlyoverstuffed, but the beautiful, reahst1c62cityscapes of Paris look wonderful on camera.Angela Gheorghiu is phenomenal as Mtm1,shaping her beautiful, plangent voice with exquisitecare. Gheorghiu has a reputation forbeing a diva (in an off-stage mterv1ew, shedares jest to Fleming that Fleming is her understudy),but onstage she is demure and endearing.Ramon Vargas is a warm Rodolfowith a honey-toned voice.Almost as successful is the new productionof Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes (217414 9). Anthony Dean Griffiths in the titlerole gives a tremendous performance - thathe has a sweet, vibrant voice only makes hisoutbursts of violence all the more frightening.Patricia Racette shines as Ellen Orford withher radiant, full soprano. The production,which centres on a large, multi-storied set, ismonochromatic but evocative, while the chorusand orchestra, under Donald Runnicles,are especially effective here.Puccini's Manon Lescaut (2 17420 9) is musicallya triumph. Karita Mattila is one of themost charismatic and vocally alluring sopranosof her generation. Her voice - powerful andearthy - might not seem a natural match for .Manon, but she brings everything she has to thisrole (including the splits). More idiomatic_isMarcello Giordani, who emits raw, pass10natespinto sounds as her irtfatuated lover DesGrieux. Best of all is James Levine who conductsthe opera as if he wrote it himself. Toobad the production - a hyper-realistic, gaudypastiche of various locales in 18th centuryFrance - is, for the most part, an eyesore.The new production of Verdi's Macbeth (206304 9) is similarly unbalanced. Zeljko Lucicas Macbeth has a beautifully burnishedand smooth baritone; he is able to bite withouthaving to bark. The powerhouse Russian sopranoMaria Guleghina plows her waythrough the treacherous role of Lady Macbethwith the determination of a bulldozer; the resultsare gripping if a little messy. Canadianbass John Relyea is a commanding, nobleBanquo. But once again, the real star isJames Levine in the pit. Anthony Noble'sproduction, which updates the setting to theearly 20th century, is unevocat1ve and staid.Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel(2 06398 9) can never quite decide whetherit is an opera for children or adults, and thisdark, morbid new production conducted byVladimir Jurowski does nothing to resolve theissue. To make it accessible to children, theopera is sung in English - a miscalculationsince, apart from Philip Langridge the disturbing,almost pedophilic witch, the principles areunable to articulate clearly. Diction apart, AliceCoote and Christine Schlifer are superb asHansel and Gretel, singing like seasoned liederperformers while acting like children.Part of Gelb's plan for the Met is more newcommissions - and when the Met does commissiona new opera, it generally does so onthe same mighty scale as its most famous productions.So Tan Duo's The First Emperor (215129 9) is opera on the grandest scale possible,with a starry cast headed by the indefatigablePlacido Domingo and conducted by thecomposer. Dun's music criss-crosses betweenWWW. THEWHOLENOTE.COMtraditions of Western and Chinese opera in tellingthe dramatic story of China's first emperor,but the music never takes flight. Instead, thecharacters languish in unending, repetitivemelodies that are neither musically compellingnor emotionally relevant. If The First Emperordoes not fully succeed as an opera, it is becauseit has all the immediacy of a historytextbook and all the intimacy of the 2008 SummerOlympics opening ceremony (which alsofeatured Dun's music). I for one would takethe overdone but gloriously sung La Bohemeany day.EARLY MUSIC ANDPERIOD PERFORMANCE200 Ans de Musique a VersaillesVarious ArtistsMBFMBF1108What a treat arrivedin my mailbox whenI agreed to writethis review! A 20-CD, beautifullyboxed set producedby the Centre de ~Musique Baroque . .de Versailles (CMBV) in celebrat10n of its owntwentieth birthday, featuring music composedfor the regal residents of the palace in the seventeenthand eighteenth centuries.The discs are grouped and packaged accordingto monarch, and the most flattering portraitof each man graces the cover of each disc. Themusic itself is glorious, richly varied and oftenquixotic, as any fan of the French Baroque willalready know. Mainly a collection of hve concertrecordings from the CMBV's 2007 anmversaryyear, performances from earlier seasonsand excerpts from studio recordings arealso included. Most of these recordings weremade on site at the palace in Versailles, andalso provide us with a fascinating overview ofthree generations of French per_iod instrumentperformer-ensembles, with the!f widely variedapproaches. A generous booklet is included.The first two discs, devoted to music fromthe reign of Louis XIII, offer airs de cour andinstrumental music by Boesset, Ballard, Lambert,Moulinie, Gaultier and others. LutenistClaire Antonini and soprano Monique Zanetti dovery well with this repertoire, and though Zanetti's strong vibrato is a bit too consistent for mytaste she negotiates Boesset's ornamentationwith aplomb, sensitivity and intelligence. Similarmaterial in the hands ( should I say throats)of II Seminario Musicale is very musically performed;Christine Plubeau's solo viol playing isof special note. .The six CDs celebrating the era of LomsXIV include excerpts from Lully's Isis andAmadis (performed respectively by Les Pageset Jes Chantres du CMBV and Musica Florea),and samplings from operas by Charpentier,Marais, Destouches and Colasse played by leConcert Spirituel. Works for the Chapelle Royaleby Dumont, Lully, Demarest, Brossard,Charpentier, and some of Couperin' s Ler;ons detenebres make plain this era's wealth of sacredDE CEMB ER 1 2008 F EB RUAR Y 7 2009

music, and the fact that these recordings weremade in the Chapelle Royale itself adds to theirmoving effect. The final disc, "Concerts etsymphonies pour le Roi", presents some verysweet orchestral music by Delalande and Lullyfils (!) and two ofCouperin's Concerts Royaux.Of the music from the era of Louix XV, thespecial discoveries for me were the divertissementsZelindor (by Fran~ois Rebel andFrancoeur), performed by Ausonia, and Blamont'sEgine as performed by Jes NouveauxCaracteres. The four other discs, all greatbut presenting more familiar fare, featureoperatic music of Rameau, music from theConcert Spirituel and chapel royal by Mondonville,Rameau/Campra, Balbastre,Corette and Daquin; and early symphonicmusic by Mondonville and Delalande.The six final CDs, focused on the age ofLouis XVI, include 'Italians at the FrenchCourt' with music by Sacchini and Piccinni; acollection of post-Rameau opera excerpts byPhilidor, Gossec, Monsigny, etc.; French symphoniesby Gossec, Leduc and Rigel; fortepianomusic performed by Andreas Staier; chambermusic for string quartet and flute, in whicha Boccherini quintet and a Devienne quartetare a distinct pleasure; and a disc of sacredchoral music and organ works. The collectioncloses in suitably proud style with Claude­Benigne Balbastre' s wacky set of variations onla Marseillaise, played with brilliance and panacheby Olivier Latry.A great find for fans of the French Baroque,French culture in general, or for anyonewishing to expand their horizons on thiswonderful repertoire!Alison MelvilleEXTENDED PLAY - KEVINMALLON RIDES AGAIN(AND AGAIN)By Terry RobbinsHere are three more outstanding NAXOSCDs from Baroque and Classical specialistKevin Mallon with his Aradia Ensemble andToronto Chamber Orchestra. All were producedby Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver atSt. Anne's Church (TCO) and Grace Churchon-the-Hill(Aradia), so the recorded sound is ofthe highest quality.I must admit that l!J \ J\ \t Ii i•,u i..1 1t\ll '1.o • II'm not particularlyfond of a lot of Vivaldi's instrumental music,sometimes feelingthat there's notmuch there otherthan constant arpeggios,scale passages,\ , ~;.~,, .t • ~, .,l lh,r;u1i., • t .. , ,· ~ •. '' ,.,. ' .. ,.,. ... • -- • • . ..!, .et. ; ' •I ,-"1 1.rl·.-•"•••U.-b• r->.1u,-· ~-->

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