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Volume 11 Issue 4 - December 2005

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72 VOCAL AND OPERA

72 VOCAL AND OPERA Purcell - King Arthur Rey; Bonney; Remmert; Schade; Widmer; Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor; Concentus Musicus Wien; Nikolaus Harnoncourt Euroarts DVD 2054508 As the most integrated of Purcell 's semi-operas, and with a text by a major English dramatist (John Dryden), King Arthur is a crowning achievement of Restoration music theatre. A fully-staged production is a rarity and to have a wellproduced DVD as a lasting record of the occasion is even more of a treat. This audio/visual account of the 2004 Salzburg Festival production, though, led by the early music pioneer Nikolaus Harnoncourt, leaves one's mouth gaping at its colossal vulgarity and artistic condescension. Still, its overwhelmingly powerful visuals keep one's eyes riveted to the screen. The magical story of Arthur's political struggle with Oswald, and his tender love for the blind Emmeline takes a comfortable seat at the back of this production's bus. The conjurors and bad guys steal the show: Gribald the hideous gnome; Philidel, the flighty sylph; Merlin, the greasy-haired wand-waver and the evil Osmond. These are faces and costumes that will stick with you long after the show is over. Production number after production number sideline the story and give the enormous chorus and five musical soloists a chance to roam the considerable Felsenreitschule stage and alternately bare themselves and dress up in military garb, beachwear, etc. The two highlights of the show are the famous, extended "Frost Scene" - with baritone Oliver Widmer offering an impressive, eccentric stutter, and the chorus and orchestra WWW.THEWHOLENOTE.COM resplendent in toques - and Canadian Michael Schade's rock-star rendition of "Your hay it ismow'd" near the end, complete with microphone stand and Jagger-esque preening. Conversely, every subtle and tender musical and dramatic high point in the work is ruined by a resolutely dark and cynical "post-modern" directorial stance. Henry Purcell and John Dryden are rendered almost unrecognizable, but the costumes are stunning and, though it's a sprawling mess, the show 's a hoot. Larry Beckwith Wagner - Tristan und Isolde Stemme; Fujimura; Domingo; Blir; Pape; Chorus and Orchestra Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; Antonio Pappano EMI 5 58006 2 (3 CDs plus audio surround-sound DVD) Even though Placido Domingo has sung an unprecedented number of roles on stage - 119 at last count - Tristan is not one of them. Nor is it ever likely to be, this late in his career. But on this greatly-anticipated studio recording, his first of the complete opera, Domingo is Tristan - a passionate, lyrical Wagnerian hero. Lapses in German enunciation in no way intrude upon his incisive ability to get the meaning across in the most dramatically intense passages, like the extended third act monologue. It is equally unlikely that Rolando Villaz6n and Ian Bostridge will ever appear on an opera stage in the roles they sing here, brief as they are. Villaz6n 's gleaming Italianate tenor makes for a thrilling, but decidedly unweatherbeaten, sailor. Bostridge charms as the plaintive shepherd. The exciting young Swedish soprano Nina Stemme, a Dom ingo protege, combines Isolde's dark powers with luminous vulnerability. Her rapturous Liebestod (Mild und leise) provides a memorable ending to the opera. The mellifluous Rene Pape is full of character as King Marke. Baritone Olaf Bar brings a great li eder singer's interpretive skills to Kurwenal. Only mezzo Mihoko Fujimura, as Brangane, disappoints. Her choppy phrases lack nuance and weight. The soloists of the terrific Royal Opera House orchestra provide vivid colours. Pappano likes to linger over expressive details, but he maintains enthralling momentum. He will stop time, but never drags it. The sound is spacious and natural, the booklet deluxe for this splendid recording. Pamela Marg/es Hyver Karina Gauvin; Les Boreades; Francis Colpron ATMA ACD2 2352 In our age of instant gratification, we tend to expect everything to be at its peak on delivery: be it wine, fresh fruit or the human voice. It's good to remember then, that things still need to ripen and mature, no matter our impatience. Case in point - the celebrated Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin. When she emerged from the Montreal musical scene over IO years ago and started winning multiple awards, I could appreciate the accolades, but could not hear enough in her voice to make a point of rushing to the record store to pick up her latest release. What a difference a decade makes! Her new disc on ATMA presents an artist at the absolute peak of her form. Her tone has become even rounder, the sustained projection without a hint of a vibrato and the sheer passion of Ms. Gauvin's singing are enough to sway even the toughest critic. This is a brilliant combination of a beautifully matured voice and made-to-measure repertoire. The French vocal cantatas of the I 8th century evolved out of their Italian cousins, but rather than fol lowing the linear recitative/aria progression favoured by the latter, a certain freedom and fluidity rule their structure. Such cantatas were preferred by the Parisians until the I 750's, but unfor- D ECEMBER 1 2005 - FEBR UARY 7 2006

lunately have not survived as the staples of the late baroque repertoire. Ms. Gauvin chose to sing two of the more popular examples, l 'Hyver by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier and Orphee by Nicolas Clerambault. Her voice receives wonderful support from the period ensemble Les Boreades. Additional instrumental fragments complete the illusion of stumbling upon a Parisian salon one wintry night circa 1730. The listening instructions are as follows: Make a cup of hot cocoa, choose your most comfortable chair, dim the lights, close your eyes and allow the voice of Ms. Gauvin to transport you there. Repeat. Robert Tomas Concert Note: Karina Gauvin is one of the featured soloists with Les Violons du Roy in a program of Bach Christmas Cantatas on December 16 at Roy Thomson Hal I. haps not monumental, works. Lemieux 's performance of Claude Debussy's Fetes Ga/antes II: Les ingenus, le Faune and Colloque sentimental made time stand still. I so love these songs for their co-existing simplicity and depth. Debussy 's setting of Paul Verlaine's poetry is sung here with an exact balance, a clear diction and a mature musicality. The sensitive performances create a moving musical moment that I shall long remember. The excellent production and sound qualities, and bilingual French and English liner notes aid to create an almost perfect release. I cannot think ofa finer recording to give or receive. Tiina Kiik 111111111111111 rn olilE..Tir.'::. Jrni1mr \m( m\f iffi!' NAXOS 11111 11111 11111 11111 Jilli Of CANADA LTD • ,,· .. ;- \LH Ullt:.: • /\I.·. u , tal. nccc, 111 u; • Ji :··: r .'··)'·l!in: · ·~ni, ,: ,r, ·c-.:c ,~·~·nt1·.~ 1.~ • er .. :11 :.-1.1 ·n "'·' k ·, ..::.cb.:,;1~1i_ ~.uDl.11~at11Jn_-; • f .1t:r11,g 're,,' C:inct l' a:t,,t, All this at an astonishingly Low price! 1r .., ..,,., 1., 111 .....,. ., .. 1, .. u, , 1,,., t ,;:l· ,U.l'1.11•, , Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras K~n11°th S; :hernwrhorn, r:o11d11i LJI' 8')S746o o? A Christmas Choral Spectacular f\·:ter breir,er, cc,; 1d11,:r.. 1 8, ,)' ,k, '(/.r:1t, , ; ;,::·., .• L'Heure Exquise Marie-Nicole Lemieux Na'ive V 5022 "L' heure exquise" - the title says it all. I have just spent slightly over 60 minutes rejoicing in this exquisite new release featuring the remarkable Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux singing a program of melodie or songs to a piano accompaniment thoughtfully performed by the American Daniel Blumenthal. The four composers featured here bring clearly different approaches and stylistic elements to their settings of the words of such great French poets as Clement Marat, Paul Verlaine, Charles Baudelaire, and Victor Hugo. From Chausson 's more Wagnerian harmonic sensibilities to Reynaldo Hahn 's clear and transparent lines to the more central European colours of George Enescu's music, my ear was continually intrigued. This is romantic music from Paris after all, with all its references to true love, pining and anguish. Lemieux and Blumenthal capture the inherent moods and gestures of these well composed, though per- D ECE MB ER 1 2005 - FEBR UARY 7 2006 Opera Proibita Cecilia Bartoli DECCA 475 6924 Cecilia Bartoli, the quintessential Rossini mezzo, has been pushing back her recording projects through time. Mozart, Haydn, Vivaldi and Handel all have at least one Bartoli CD featuring their repertoire. This new release brings together arias from operas by Handel, Scarlatti and Caldara. What they have in common is the era in which they were written and performed. A decade-long Papal ban on public entertainment left Romans with only private opportunities from 1700 to 1710 to hear this magnificent music. Bartoli brings her trademark intensity to each piece. Her conviction never falters and her execution is unerring. Every aria is remarkable for her technical and interpretive skill. She delivers mercilessly fast runs, large leaps and intensely emotional phrasing at any speed. She drives through music like a high performance Italian sports car - better actually. Were it not for the fact that many have seen and heard her sing Ii ve one might suspect this singing is almost too good to be true. Some of these works may be new to Bartoli fans who have enjoyed her many recordings of 19th century repertoire. However, Handel 's WWW. THEWHOLENOTE,COM SOl'IC\ NO SC >\< ;S .\'.D .\HI.\S 11 n,i, ' •.,t1 11 ,.,,,,.,,,\, 1.- ln ,l• U ,l '1• \ 11.,', J.,r iJ\h1r1 i11n 1 ·, .,. ..... l'h 11, . ,,-...,,~. • :,.1,-, , " ,,, ,..,, ,;. , Soprano Songs and Arias A1 . f'.' ·11fa Maihc.7., sopr;,110 St

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