Sunday, June 25, 2017
This week we dig deep into the mature works of Richard Strauss: his 1924 Intermezzo, labeled a “bürgerliche Komödie mit sinfonischen Zwischenspielen.” The glorious and beloved Elisabeth Söderström tackles the fiendishly difficult role of Christine in a 1974 performance from Glyndebourne conducted by John Pritchard sung in English. Strauss himself wrote the libretto based on real events in his life. The story is a fluffy drawing room comedy about a shrewish wife’s jealousy over an affair by her husband, who happens to be a composer with the initials R.S., Robert Storch. It is eventually revealed that in a simple case of mistaken identity the damning correspondence was meant for another musician with the similar surname of Stroh. The opera ends with renewed vows of love by the couple. Lotte Lehmann, who created Christine, is reported to have congratulated Strauss’ notoriously bitchy wife, Pauline, on receiving such a gift, to which she replied, “I don’t give a damn.” Remembered mainly for its orchestral interludes, it is rarely performed, chalking up a mere 31 performances by Wiener Staatsoper between 1927 and 1963. Lehmann sang it 16 times, and in the post-war performances, all of which were given at Theater an der Wien, the role belonged to Hilde Zadek and Hanny Steffek It is in that smaller house where I had my only encounter with the opera in 2008. Soile Isokowski withdrew from the production in early rehearsals, and soon Regisseur Christof Loy walked out. On opening night, the theater’s director, Roland Geyer, stepped before the curtain to thank Carola Glaser for jumping in at short notice: the theater had been able to locate only two women in all of Europe who knew the role, and only one was available. Robert Storch was sung by Bo Skovhus. Kirill Petrenko presided over the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien. Söderström is one of those unforgettable singers who had a strange Met career: a debut in 1959 and a farewell to opera 40 years later, but with absences of 20 years and then another decade in the middle. She debuted as Mozart’s Susanna and was soon assigned Marguerite in Faust, Musetta, Adina, Sophie, Rosalinda, and the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos, the last two of which were sung in English (until 1970, the Met gave the Prolog to Ariadne in English and the Oper auf Deutsch). Between 1964 and her return as the Marschallin on the Met’s 1983 annual spring tour, her voice and reputation grew and she established herself as one of Sweden’s greatest exports throughout the opera world. She became known as a Janá?ek specialist, and her Decca recordings as Jenufa, Kát’a, and Emily Marty under Charles Mackerras all won Gramophone Awards. Her first performances in the now-not-quite-so-new house at Lincoln Center were as Ellen Orford opposite Jon Vickers, many of which I attended. She also sang the Marschallin in the Rosenkavalier trio at the Met’s Centennial Gala with Frederica von Stade and Kathleen Battle. She was a member of that rare handful of singers who sang, in chronological order, Sophie, Octavian, and the Marschallin. She then repriesed Le nozze di Figaro, this time as the Contessa, brought her Marschallin to the house with Brigitte Fassbaender and Barbara Hendricks, and then disappeared again for a dozen years. In 1990, I nabbed a subscription for a vocal recital series at Alice Tully Hall to assure a ticket to hear sensational newcomer Cecilia Bartoli. Another recitalist – I can’t remember who – withdrew at short notice and Söderström jumped in. It was 12 May 1991, Mothers’ Day, and she ingenuously cobbled together a glorious program of songs and arias in a multitude of languages that all dealt with some aspect of motherhood. Shortly before her 72nd birthday, she rejoined the Met for her farewell to the stage: seven shows as the Countess in Pique Dame with Plácido Domingo and Galina Gorchakova. The final performance of the run was telecast and preserved for posterity. She died in Stockholm at the age of 82 in 2009. Post scriuptum: last Monday’s upload was derailed by an Internet outage, but I did manage to post the München Tannhäuser with Klaus Florian Vogt and Anja Harteros. You can catch it here: h
Happy 51st birthday mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WvYa1rH2ns Born on this day in 1903 bass-baritone Joel Berglund. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdJ7sTUlQLo Born on this day in 1910 tenor Anton Dermota. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=rh23kopPvXw Born on this day in 1917 baritone Robert Merrill. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgeJetz_rt8 Born on this day in 1919 bass Manfred Jungwirth. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_hMa07Q6p4 Born on this day in 1920 mezzo-soprano Fedora Barbieri. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQV_mJe1mq4 Born on this day in 1926 tenor Ivo Zídek. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=lyFWdkAdU_E
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro, K492 The singers are: John Tomlinson (Figaro), Joan Rodgers (Susanna), Andreas Schmidt (Il Conte Almaviva), Lella Cuberli (La Contessa Almaviva), Luisa Bartoletti (Cherubino), Phyllis Pancella (Marcellina), Günter von Kannen (Bartolo), Graham Clark (Basilio), Richard Brunner (Curzio), Peter Rose (Antonio), Hilde Leidland (Barbarina) And the orchestra: Berliner Philharmoniker and the RIAS Kammerchor, Daniel Barenboim conducting. “Mozart brings out the best in Daniel Barenboim,” wrote Opera magazine, also describing him as “a Mozartian of deep conviction”. For his recordings of the three Mozart-da Ponte operas, Barenboim created a hand-picked company of singers, including the charismatic John Tomlinson, here assuming the role of Figaro, and Cecilia Bartoli, who makes an irresistibly palpitating Cherubino. “Everything that Barenboim does provides some sort of illumination of the drama,” said Gramophone of this Figaro; “It has something to say, something that arises from deep and serious musical perception.” Here is the opening music, just 3 minutes, from this charming opera:
Earlier this year John Yohalem ruminated here on the paucity of Vivaldi operas in the US. “Trove Thursday” attempts a bit of a remedy with a live Motezuma (not a typo) I attended in Paris ten years ago conducted by Alan Curtis with Karina Gauvin, Sonia Prina, Mary-Ellen Nesi, Vito Priante and Ann Hallenberg (as Hernán Cortés!). Before Marilyn Horne and Victoria de los Angeles recorded Orlando Furioso in the 1970s, I wonder how many were aware that Vivaldi wrote operas much less had heard one. Matters have changed dramatically since then, particularly due to the “Vivaldi Edition” on Naïve; sadly it’s apparently now defunct before having completed its superb opera series. Although he claimed to have written many more, scholars have documented around 50 Vivaldi opera, but unfortunately only a small percentage of that oeuvre has survived. Until recently Motezuma was thought to be among the missing; however an incomplete score was exhumed from a Berlin library in 2002. Violinist and Vivaldi expert Alessandro Ciccolini composed new recitatives and adapted existing arias to arrive at the full edition Curtis recorded in 2005. The Paris concert performance posted here features a cast altogether different from that Archiv CD except for the apparently indispensable Priante in the title role. Prina, who sang so poorly this past weekend in Ariodante, is in much better form here as Mitrena, the Mexican emperor’s wife, a role composed for Vivaldi’s muse (and possible mistress) Anna Girò. Gauvin, Hallenberg and Nesi (who sings Mitrena on the Curtis Motezuma DVD ) also shine; for me the only weak link is Laura Aikin’s Asprano. A brief baroque fascination about the Spanish invasion produced Vivaldi’s opera although Montezuma’s tragic fate was of course replaced by the required lieto fine (happy ending). My first exposure to an 18th century vision of Mexico came from Richard Bonynge’s LP of highlights from Carl Heinrich Graun’s version which features one of Joan Sutherland’s greatest achievements—the da capo is simply mind-boggling! //www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KggJwiHm9o A Motezuma by Czech composer Josef Myslive?ek was also recently revived. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivaB5xe_jUw I’ve experienced just five Vivaldi operas live including Opera Lafayette’s excellent staging of the two surviving acts of Catone in Utica, but I’m curious to see more. Later this month the Spoleto Festival in Charleston mounts Farnace with Anthony Roth Costanzo. The fine Czech group Collegium 1704 is currently touring Europe with a production of Arsilda, Regina di Ponto with a cast that includes hilarious Cecilia Bartoli impersonator Kangmin Justin Kim and dreamy bass Lisandro Abadie. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnLM2QhCPPs Although they don’t usually provide laughs, Vivaldi’s operas sometimes offer thrills and chills thanks to great singers conquering his near-superhuman vocal demands. //www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIg77lSRnPg Vivaldi: Motezuma Theatre des Champs Elysees, Paris 10 October 2007 Karina Gauvin –Teutile Sonia Prina — Mitrena Mary Ellen Nesi — Ramiro Laura Aikin — Asprano Ann Hallenberg — Fernando Cortes Vito Priante — Motezuma Il Complesso Barocco Alan Curtis — conductor To download Motezuma, just click on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player above and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory. In addition, more than 60 other “Trove Thursday” podcasts remain available from iTunes (for free!) or via any RSS reader.
I don’t usually attend a performance of an opera I’ve known well most of my life expecting a revelation, but exactly that happened Sunday afternoon at The English Concert’s presentation of Handel’s Ariodante conducted by Harry Bicket and starring a sovereign Joyce DiDonato in the title role. It was not the singers nor the orchestra that so struck me but the magnificence of the work itself. Sure, everyone agrees that Ariodante is among Handel’s greatest works but honestly it’s not an opera that I listen to very often. I probably have ten or more recordings of it including a wonderful live one on “Trove Thursday” with Tatiana Troyanos from the last time the opera was performed at Carnegie Hall. But recently I’m more likely to have a less familiar work like Silla or Berenice or Teseo playing at home. But Sunday’s show made me appreciate as never before Handel’s magisterial command in Ariodante. The work presents a superbly moving drama of forgiveness with an immense power to stun and thrill its audience, particularly in the devastating second act which includes some of the composer’s greatest arias including the transcendent “Scherza infida” which was gorgeously rendered by DiDonato. When I got home, I couldn’t wait to play parts of the opera again and again. If the celebrated American mezzo didn’t reach the dizzying heights of her great Alcina from two years ago , she gave a noble portrayal of the Scottish hero duped by a villainous rival into believing his fiancée has betrayed him. Though she sweetly floated her exquisite opening arioso “Qui d’amor,” the aria that followed, the joyous “Con l’ali di costanza,” was worryingly small-scaled. Perhaps this was just an unfortunate interpretative choice or she hadn’t sufficiently warmed up; however, the remaining two acts found her in boldly confident form culminating in an expectedly dazzling “Dopo notte.” Despite somewhat reduced vocal resources, she surpassed her earlier recorded Ariodante which I greeted here six years ago with mixed feelings. The other trouser role manifested the performance’s polar opposite: Sonia Prina’s grotesque Polinesso. Rarely have I felt as detached from the rest of an audience as during the enthusiastic cheers that rewarded her cartoonish characterization and painful caterwauling. Done up like a punked-out, grown-up Eddie Munster replete with fauxhawk, Prina’s Polinesso (wo)manhandled Dalinda so outrageously that the ingenue’s infatuation became utterly unbelievable. I’m not at all averse to unconventional interpretations of the role; though disdained by many, Ewa Podle?’s bold villain is an immensely enjoyable highlight of the Marc Minkowski recording , Once hailed as the baroque contralto the world had been waiting for, Prina’s singing has grown increasingly hollow, leathery and effortful. Polinesso’s creepy and insinuating “Se l’inganoo” (my favorite of his four arias) featured the sort of brazenly clucked coloratura unheard since Elinor Ross tackled Donna Anna. Unfortunately Prina, featured in so many performances and recordings lately, has become such a blight that I usually try to avoid her entirely or fast-forward through her “contributions.” Dalinda, who is hoodwinked into playing along with Polinesso’s devious plot (similar to the scheme used to disgrace Hero in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing) was to have been sung by American Joélle Harvey but she recently withdrew. I was initially chagrined to learn that English soprano Mary Bevan had replaced her. I’ve been mostly disappointed in the performances I’ve heard from her better-known soprano-sister Sophie—in their joint recording of Handel’s The Triumph of Time and Truth I couldn’t tell them apart, even though Sophie was singing Beauty (!) and Mary Deceit (!!). Happily, Mary Bevan proved to be an absolute delight, her appealingly vulnerable Dalinda sung with a fresh and agile sparkle. Though Handel’s duets are almost inevitably special, I was still surprised to find tears streaming down my cheeks during Dalinda’s achingly touching reconciliation with Lurcanio as it was performed with irresistible tenderness by Bevan and David Portillo. Although understandably stressed by the challenging coloratura of “Il tuo sangue,” one of Handel’s most virtuosic tenor arias, Portillo otherwise suavely conveyed the sweetness as well as the outrage of Ariodante’s devoted brother. The object of Lurcanio’s misplaced anger is Ariodante’s betrothed Ginevra who has been set up by Polinesso. Although I haven’t been a fan of German soprano Christiane Karg’s numerous recordings, as the performance progressed I was gradually won over. The voice proved much warmer in person and she affectingly portrayed the near-tragic journey of the Scottish princess. There were still instances of edgy, unattractive tone that have bothered me on CD, but more often, especially when the music lay in the upper part of her voice, she captivated while negotiating the florid passages with aplomb. A veteran of DiDonato’s complete Ariodante CD with Alan Curtis, bass Matthew Brook again took on the role of Ginevra’s father, the King of Scotland. Although he engagingly offered in his grateful arias a joyful ebullience or a profound sadness, his stage demeanor verged on the risible, from his bizarre scampering about following his first aria to his loud groaning at the conclusion of the intense “Invida sorte avara.” Ariodante was the fifth in a series of Handel operas and oratorios presented at Carnegie by Bicket and his English Concert and concluded the so-called “Ariosto trilogy” of Alcina and last season’s Orlando. The expectedly superb playing by the period orchestra was much in evidence although at moments one wanted a bigger, richer sound in the enormous space. Many of Bicket’s tempi struck me as a bit brisk—a number of arias sounded unnecessarily rushed. But he did strike an ideal pace for the tricky “Scherza infida” which in the hands of some other conductors becomes a near-dirge. In it, DiDonato was lovingly supported by Alberto Grazzi’s eloquent, keening bassoon. Ornaments were mostly aptly and stylishly applied, although there were far too many distracting cadenzas added. I appreciated that no vocal music was cut but I didn’t understand omitting several of the dance numbers to save only a few minutes. After a performance Tuesday at the Kennedy Center, this Ariodante tour travels to Europe where the title role will be sung by Alice Coote, as DiDonato will be having surgery following next Sunday’s starry Met gala. The Bicket-English Concert-Handel series continues next season at Carnegie Hall with Rinaldo starring Iestyn Davies as the good guy and Luca Pisaroni as the bad guy. Meanwhile Ariodante remains a popular favorite with star mezzos, although occasionally a countertenor like Franco Fagioli a few years ago in Karlsruhe and Yuri Minenko last season in Lausanne has tackled the high-lying title role written for the great castrato Carestini. Following her celebrated mezzo sisters like Janet Baker, Anne-Sofie von Otter, Lorraine Hunt Leiberson and Ann Hallenberg, Cecilia Bartoli,who has eschewed trouser roles for nearly her entire career, takes on Ariodante for the first time next month at her Pfingsten Festival in Salzburg where she repeats it during the summer festival with Rolando Villazon announced as Lurcanio (yeah, right!). After having already performed both Alcina and Orlando, next season William Christie and his Les Arts Florissants finally turn to Ariodante for a new production by Sir David McVicar at the Vienna Staatsoper. Sarah Connolly, a veteran Ariodante, sings the title role there (with the marvelously named bass Wilhelm Schwinghammer as the King) while Kate Lindsey takes over as the beleaguered knight for a series of concert performances throughout Europe, a tour which one hopes might also show up in New York.
Great opera singers