6 years ago

Volume 10 Issue 10 - July/August 2005

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DISC VOCAL AND OPERA TIC Ji ,\NnEI 1 ' \llt:~· -,. U Jt>o:,_,_, (UU~~i!f~i~ l. ~n I'#N\.>. '~~>•*'"' • :t~ 1•'«-""""~ J:ooodtn ...{.oA». \.hnm.: Handel - L' Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato Junge Kantorei Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra Joachim Carlos Martini Naxos 8.557057-58 John Milton wrote many poems which contemplate the nature of mankind. "L' Allegro " is one which explores the lifestyles of country or city living, and "II Penseroso" deals with the delights of the thinking mind. Handel took these two poems and intermingled them with the poetry of Charles Jennens - "II Moderato" (the moderate man)- to create this most fascinating and underperformed Oratorio. The Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra and the Junge Kantorei are directed here by their founder, Joachim Carlos Martini. His style is clear and concise, if not terribly interesting. The music itself more than makes up for a lack of spunk in the players and choir, ·and Handel's brilliant setting of the exquisite words speaks for itself throughout. Three of the soloists (Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan; tenor Knut Schoch; bass Stephan MacLeod) are exceptional in their expression and sound. They all carry their arias to the full extent of the dramatic and pensive moods, leaving the listener inspired. The somewhat unfortunate and displeasing sound of soprano Linda Perillo takes away from the enjoyment of the piece as a complete work, but the two discs do play well in sequence. Although this may not wind up being known as the quintessential recording of L 'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, the work is so seldom produced that the experience is well worth seeking. I highly recommend listening to this with the libretto in front of you - it will be worth the internet search. Gabrielle McLaughlin 56 Handel - Serse Von Otter, Norberg-Schultz, Piau, Zazzo, Tro Santafe, Furlanetto, Abete Les Arts Florissants; William Christie, director Virgin Veritas 7243 5 45711 2 1 of the well-behaved audience. A handsome booklet tops off this most welcome new recording, by far the best of this opera on disc. Pamela Margles Performance Note: Laurence Zazzo sings Handel's Rodelinda with the Canadian Opera Company on Oct. 18, 20, 22, 26, 28 and 30. Serse is one of Handel's best-loved Wagner- Die Meistersinger von operas, with a wealth of splendid Niirnberg (DVD) arias and ensembles. American con- Jose van Dam; Peter Siefert; ductor William Christie, steeped in Matti Salminen the declamatory tradition of French Orchester ~er Oper Zurich; baroque, heaps rewarding attention · Franz Weiser-Most on the words and the way they EMI 5 99736 9 shape the melodic line. A leading pioneer in the performance of baroque music today, he avoids some of the extremes of his younger colleagues in matters of rhythm, accents, and ornamentation, concentrating instead on psychological subtleties. He favours performers who not only sing spectacularly, but create strong portraits in an ensemble setting. The young American countertenor Laurence Zazzo, distinctively expressive and powerful, the incisive soprano Sandrine Piau, with her light and elegant coloratura, and a very funny Antonio Abete are all brimming with personality. As Serse, king of Persia, the versatile Ann Sophie .von Otter pulls off showstoppers like the gently ironic Ombra in£li fu, famous as "Handel's Largo" , as well as the dynamic, ultra-passionate fury'3rias like Se bramate. However, Elizabeth Norberg-Shultz disappoints as Romilda, sweet-voiced, but lacking intensity and colour, and Silvia Tro Santafe's thin characterization of Amastre lapses into stridency. The choir and orchestra of Les Arts Florissants are lithe and elegant, with silvery strings and warmly spark! ing brass and winds. Although the immediacy of a live performance is palpable, there are remarkably few signs Wagner- Die Meistersinger von Niirnberg (DVD) James Morris; Karita Mattila; Ben Heppner Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus; James Levine Deutsche Grammophon 073 0949 Die Meistersinger is Wagner's most light-hearted, affectionate, and accessible opera. Even though it lasts over four hours, it's not a minute too long when done as engagingly as these two productions, both filmed live in 2001 . The Zurich Opera Meistersinger under Franz Weiser-Most features a fine cast, including a defmitive Sachs in Jqse van Dam. Though Van Dam's lithe, mellifluous voice is less powerful and ringing this late in his career, he extracts the fullest meaning from each word and phrase. Yet his riveting, intimate performance is undermined by Nikolaus Lehnhoff's the innovative but confusing, incoherent staging. In the second and beginning of the third act the stage is too dark and bare, providing too few visual clues. Why is that giant disco ball hanging over Act II? Why does Sachs' house contain only a pile of books, with no sign whatsoever of his cobbling? Peter Seiffer brings an attractive, worldly intensity to the ardent lover and aspiring mastersinger, Walter. Petra-Maria Schnitzler has a powerful presence, her Eva more seductive than guileless. Michael Volle's tender Beckmeisser is a plausible- if soundly WWW.lHEWHOLENOTE.COM rejected - lover for Eva. The orchestra is terrific. But the interactions between characters lose their dramatic impact to the disjointed, insensitive camera work. The random costumes are as illogical as the sets. The greatest problem for this release, however, is that it has arrived . at same time as the Metropolitan Opera's splendid production: Otto Shunk's grand, naturalistic staging may lack adventurousness, but it provides support to the si ngers and lucidity for the viewer. James Morris has taken on the role of Sachs late in his career. But he is imposing, self-possessed, and thoroughly convincing, with his darkly robust voice shaded in interesting ways. Matilla is a luminous Eva. She looks and sounds nai'vely girlish , even with a father, the charming Rene Pape, who is clearly younger than she. Canadian tenor Ben Heppner is thrilling as Walter. He is equally beguiling as a lover, composer and singer. In the 'Blessedmorning-dream-interpretation-melody' Morgenlich, he shows why he is the most thrilling Walter of our day. Thomas Allen's hapless Beckmeisser is brilliantly detailed. Canadian bass John Relyea creates an evocative night watchman. The Met orchestra under James Levine is vivid and responsive. The video direction by Brian Large is natural, seamless and unobtrusive. Pamela Margles Performance NQtes (further afield): Ben Heppner sings a program of Wagner and Beethoven with Deborah Voigt and the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa on July 20, and at the Festival ofLanaudiere in Joliette, Quebec on July 23. Jose Van Dam sings with the Montreal Symphony under Jacques Lacombe on September 20 and 22 at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier in Montreal. Wagner- Der Ring des Nibelungen: Das Rheingold; Die Walkure; Siegfried; Gotterdammerung Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona; Bertrand de Billy OpusArte DVDs: OA 0910/11112/13 D ] U LY 1 -SEPTEMBER 7 2005

This production originated in Berlin with the Deutsche Staatsoper Unter den Linden with sets by Hans Schavernoch and directed by Harry Kupfer. The casts include Falk Struckmann (Wotan), Linda Watson (Sieglinde), Richard Berkely-Steele (Siegmund), John Treleaven (Siegfried), Deborah Polaski (Brunnhilde) and Matti Salminen . . . (Hagen). The time frame has moved from the mythic times of the Edda and the Teutonic legends into the industrial era, and justifiably so. Wagner intended the Ring to be a parable depicting injustice and inequality and the myopic corruption of those wielding power, followed by their collapse and annihilation. As an aside, I was told by a person who was really in a position to know, that after attending a number of cycles in Bayreuth, Adolph Hitler finally 'got' themessage and forbade further performances. Quite ironically, not too long after the fuehrer effected his own immolation scene. Kupfer, as an East German director, was known for his end-of-theworld sets of unrivaled starkness. Here the action is basically set under the ever present World Ash and although set in 19th century times, swords and spears are the universal weapons. And now we know that the gods do have a sense of fun and enjoy themselves ... at least here. The sets certainly strike us as out of human proportions but as the operas proceed in these fantastic surroundings with monumental technical structures, it is all too clear that all the characters are simply strutting their time upon the stage as their pre-ordained fate unfolds. This makes every one of the protagonists pitiable as they cheat, steal, love and self-sacrifice without changing the outcome. When given the viewer-listener's complete attention, this staging of tales of heroic and impossible goings-on becomes quite palpable and in the last act of Siegfried, as we watch Siegfried and Brunrthilde together, we finally realize that he, Siegfried, the hero, is no more than a nai've youth of whom too much is expected. As we know, devoid of the necessary wisdom, he becomes the classic anti-hero. I have yet to see the Gotterdammerung, which will be released in August but I am sure that things are going to get pretty hot around Valhalla. Each member of the cast is convincing in his or her role. There are no lesser singers involved but one or two are outstanding, including ]ULY 1 -SEPTEMBER 7 2005 many not listed above. For instance, Graham Clark is a particularly impish Loge, maneuvering Wotan and the rest towards their downfall. Finally, after having viewed all five presently available complete cycles on DVD, each with many excellent qualities and obviously some downsides, it is evident that there is no perfect Ring. Nor can there be . Recorded live, this production has by far the best technical qualities of them all , featuring very fine 16:9 wide screen video imaging and a stereo or 5:1 DTS surround sound, the impact of which is astounding. Extra features for each opera include a cast gallery and a very informative, voice over, illustrated synopsis of the plot. Even the choice of subtitles is unusual: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Catalan. Bruce Surtees PDQ Bach: The Abduction of Figaro Kreuger, Brustadt, Ford, Lehr, Ferrante, Burt Minnesota Opera Orchestra and Chorus; Peter Schickle VAl DVD 4251 This premiere production of PDQ Bach's longest opera was given in 1984 by the Minnesota Opera. Professor Peter Schickle, who 'discovered' JS Bach's mythical youngest son, provides the on-camera (mostly!) introduction, a brilliant commentary on insufferably pompous TV hosts: The story is thoroughly ridiculous, even by operatic standards. The bedridden Figaro is abducted by Captain Kadd, and everyone ends up in Cuba. Highlights include Bruce Ford's love serenade Behold fair maiden, which includes lines like 'My dog has fleas and he scratches all day ' , and the Corpse de Ballet's Dance of the Seven Pails . Schickle mixes up Mozart's operas with bits of Rossini, Beethoven, and the Beatles. What makes this pastiche so brilliant - and hilarious - is that Schickle is a skillful composer and orchestrator. He loves and understands the material he is parodying. Best of all. h::: is very, very funny . fu W Iii id ill Ul Ill Ill Ill 85.57770 1\fUSS.ORGSKY' STOKOWSKI l'k l u~,. ;U a n f

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