VOCAL AND OPERATICBellini - I PuritaniAnna Netrebko; Eric Cutler;Franco Vassallo; John Relyea;Metropolitan Opera Orchestra,Chorus and Ballet; Patrick SummersDeutsche Grammophon 0734221This DVD of Bellini's I Puritani from theMetropolitan Opera in New York preserves alive telecast that wasbroadcast to movietheatres around the worldlast year. More than mostoperas, I Puritanidemands beautiful singing,and the Met delivers hereand on all fronts. Theproduction was mountedfor the Russian sopranoAnna Netrebko, one of thebiggest names in opera.Singing the role of Elvira, Netrebko has thecomplete package: good looks, natural actingability, but most importantly, a stunninglybeautiful voice and a sure command of it.N etrebko 's dark soprano is not the perfectmatch for Bellini - her tri I ls are poor, her highnotes blunt, and her coloratura heavy-handed.But her dramatic conviction and gorgeous tonecarry her through - there is never anunexciting moment when she is onstage.Eric Cutler sings the impossibly high tenorrole of Arturo with grace and ease, and hasenough dramatic credibility to not beovershadowed by Netrebko. Canadian bassbaritoneJohn Relyea makes a strongimpression as Elvira's uncle Giorgio, whileFranco Vassallo is elegant though bland asArturo's rival Riccardo. The traditional setsand costumes are grandiose and pleasant tolook at if somewhat muted. But this is reallythe singers' show, and the excellentcamerawork, the staging, and PatrickSummers' conducting of the orchestra all allowthe superb cast to shine. Bonuses, from theoriginal broadcast, include Renee Fleminginterviewing Netrebko and commentary fromthe late Beverly Sills.Seth EstrinTchaikovsky - Eugene OneginRenee Fleming; Elena Zaremba;Ramon Vargas; Dmitri Hvorostovsky;Metropolitan Opera Chorus andOrchestra; Valery GergievDecca DVD 0743248This performance of Eugene Onegin,broadcast Jive to movie theatres last springfrom the Metropolitan Opera, is one thatdeserves all the hype accompanying these Metbroadcasts. The international cast is anchoredby superb Russian singers. Larisa Shevchenkois touching as Tatiana's nurse, Elena Zaremba62formidable but convincingas Tatiana's thoughtlesssister Olga, SvetlanaVolkova elegant asTatiana's mother, andSergeiAleksashkin movingas Tatiana's elderlyhusband, Prince Gremin.Dmitri Hvorostovskyis ideal as the brooding,world-weary Onegin. Hesings Tchaikovsky's melodies so lyrically thathe never seems to breathe. The closecamerawork reveals his fine acting skills,which often get overlooked because of hisdazzling appearance and gorgeous voice.Mexican tenor Ramon Vargas, as thedoomed poet Lenski, contributes nuancedrtalianate passion. As Tatania, Americansoprano Renee Fleming shows no sign of thegulping, breathy mannerisms that can plagueher performances. She is totally believable as avulnerable young girl in the famous Letterscene, and devastating as a somewhat olderwoman in the final scene.The exciting Russian conductor ValeryGergiev manages to rein in his notoriouslydriven speeds. Jn fact he goes too far with theplodding tempo he saddles on French tenorJean-Paul Fouchecourt as Tatiana's tutorTriquet. But the Met orchestra and chorusrespond to Gergiev splendidly throughout.This is a revival of the 1997 production bythe star Canadian team of director RobertCarsen and designer Michael Levine, withstylized dances set by Toronto-based Frenchchoreographer Serge Bennathan. The beautifulproduction is deceptively simple, with barewalls, leaves on the ground, artfully placedchairs, and sumptuous costumes.Pamela MarglesConcert note: The Canadian OperaCompany presents Eugene Onegin with BrettPolegato in the title role in performancesthroughout April, with direction and set designby Marco Arturo Marelli.Romanzo di Central ParkSongs by Charles IvesGerald Finley; Julius Drake;Magnus JohnstonHyperion CDA67644Mark-Anthony TurnageTwice Through the Heart;Hidden Love Song; The Torn FieldsSarah Connolly; Gerald Finley; LondonPhilharmonic Orchestra; Marin AlsopLP0-0031The baritone voice is frequently forgiven for itsshortcomings because of its relative rarity.Well, there is nothing to forgive in the case ofGerald Finley. The Ontario-born, Englandtrainedbaritone is fortunate enough to possessone of the finest voices in the world. I wasalways a bit suspicious of the term"mellifluous", frequently used by vocal musicreviewers, but here it is, a truly mellifluousWWW, THEWHOLENOTE.COMvoice. Mr. Finleycould sing, to stunningeffect, the YellowPages directory.Fortunately for us,this time he hasrecorded a secondCD of the songs byCharles Ives. Ivescomposed well over200 songs in hiscareer, but the mostrecognized are amongthe"ll4Songs",published in 1922.On manyoccasions, Iveswould re-adapt songs, changing the setting tobetter reflect a new text he found for it. Somesongs featured texts written by Ives himselfand many touched on very personal or familymoments. The songs, ranging from InFlanders Fields, a First World War anthem, toSlow March, depicting the funeral of a belovedfamily pet, frequently had their origins ininstrumental music composed entirely foranother occasion and genre. Ives remarked inhis autobiography: " ... singers made such afuss about interval, time, etc .... When they[songs] were arranged later for voice andpiano, they were weakened in many cases .... "He certainly would not have made such aremark had he ever heard this spectacularGerald Finley recording.Contemporary composers do not doubtFinley's talent- in fact, many vocal roles arecreated with him in mind. Such was the caseof Harry Heegan, the hero of Mark-AnthonyTumage's First World War opera, The SilverTassie. The Torn Fields is a song cycle thatgrew out of the opera, and the fourthmovement is a setting of Wounded by WilfredOwen, a poem that was the template for TheSilver Tassie. Yet another excellentperformance by Finley is paired with anequally spectacular one by Sarah Connelly.Twice Trough the Heart is a movingconfession ofa woman who killed her abusivehusband. In the verses of Jackie Kay, thewoman is trapped by her crime and by herrefusal to ta! k about the abuse she hadsuffered - thus condemning herself to a life inprison. The music of Turnage conveys heranguish as brilliantly as that of Poulenc did inLa Voix Humaine, a work that is its structuralsibling. Marin Alsop, easily one of the ten bestJiving conductors, deftly guides the LondonPhilharmonic through these simultaneouslybrand new and eerily familiar works.Robert TomasEARLY MUSIC ANDPERIOD PERFORMANCERoma TriumphansStudio de musique ancienne de Montreal;Christopher JacksonATMA SACD2 2507APRI L 1 - MAY 7 2008
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