Friday, July 1, 2011

Bach JC - Endimione - Weil, Cappella Coloniensis







Mozart is often praised for various characteristics in his music, but many of them are not as original for their time as many would like to think. Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian, wrote a number of operas, many of which could be mistaken for Mozart. While sounding more like Mozart's earlier works, there could be a connection to later ones as well. And perhaps Bach was a better composer than his younger contemporary. Bach JCL'Endimione, first performed in 1772, is yet another setting of a Metastasian libretto, and was perhaps used  as a comment on the affairs of the royal family, something not new to opera. While it did not merit the controversy of 'Isis' by Lully, it is a work well worth listening to. Especially notable is sopranist Jörg Waschinski in the role of Cupid. This recording won the Echo Klassik Award 2000 – Best opera recording 17th/18th century.


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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Auber - Le Domino noir - Bonynge - Sumi Jo, Vernet,








One stage work of Auber’s that might succeed in a revival is Le Domino noir (“The Black Domino”), one of those mistaken-identity farces that Scribe could probably churn out by the dozens. In brief: Angèle, a novice nun, decides to have a last fling and attends a ball on the night before she is to take her final vows. To conceal her identity, she wears a black mask (the “black domino” of the title). Another guest, Horace de Massares, is in love with her. A friend of his, Count Juliano, sets back the clocks one hour so Horace can spend more time with the mysterious woman. By the time she realizes what time it actually is, it is too late for her to return to the convent, whose gates close at midnight. Seeking aDaniel François Esprit Auber. shelter for the night, she ends up at the house of Count Juliano, who is throwing a post-ball party. Afraid of being recognized, she talks Juliano’s housekeeper into letting her assume the disguise of a maid. Everyone is deceived but Horace, who recognizes her but says nothing. After an evening of misadventures, she manages to return, undetected, to the convent the next morning. Horace eventually shows up to see her. Conveniently, a letter from the Queen arrives, freeing Angèle from her vows, and she accepts Horace’s proposal of marriage. Opera audiences have swallowed more ridiculous plots.

Auber and Scribe collaborated on an opera based on Scribe’s play Gustav III, which deals with the events leading to and including the assassination of Gustav III, King of Sweden. Antonio Somma used Scribe’s play as the basis for his libretto for Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera. As is the case with Auber’s Manon Lescaut, any revival of Auber’s piece will be partially driven by curiosity, given what later composers did with the subject. As a filler, Bonynge presents the opera’s overture and a series of dances performed at the masked ball during which Gustav is slain. With his facility and lively sense of rhythm, Auber was a natural for the ballet field and, in fact, Scribe even supplied the scenarios for several of Auber’s ballet scores.

Performer:  Isabelle Vernet,  Bruce Ford,  Patrick Power,  Martine Olmeda,  Jules Bastin, Doris Lamprecht,  Jocelyne Taillon,  Sumi Jo,  Gilles Cachemaille Conductor:  Richard Bonynge
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Chamber Orchestra,  London Voices


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Monday, June 27, 2011

Martinu - Three fragments from the opera Juliette – Magdalena Kozena, Sir Charles Mackerras







Gramophone Award Winner 2009 - Best Recital

Juliette is Martinu's operatic masterpiece and one of the most distinctive of all 20th-century operatic works. The plot is hallucinatory and wonderfully weird. Michel, a traveling salesman, arrives in a town where people have no memories. He encounters Juliette, whom he may have met before, or she may already know him, and in a series of stream-of-consciousness encounters they meet in a forest, where Michel shoots her, sort of, only she may not be dead, or even shot. In the third act, which takes place in the Bureau of Dreams, Michel arrives looking for Juliette, and the office clerk tells him that he has been dreaming, and if he does not give up his search he will never wake up, forever trapped in his Portrait of Bohuslav Martinů, U.S.A., New York 1945 dream. He refuses to relinquish Juliette, and the opera returns to the exact scene with which it opened.

I know it sounds strange, but what makes it work is Martinu's music, which matches the story moment for hallucinatory moment. He knew how important the opera was for his artistic development, and he tried desperately to get it performed as often as possible. The orchestral suite was arranged in 1969, after Martinu's death, but he assembled three fragments for concert performance that give an excellent idea of the complete work. These include, crucially, the entire forest scene in Act 2 and the Act 3 finale in the Bureau of Dreams. There's an old recording of the complete opera on Supraphon (in Czech), which is splendidly performed but dimly engineered.

This production more than makes up for that deficit, even though there's some audible variation between the Three Fragments (recorded live) and the Suite. Martinu's scoring is particularly luminous and really needs modern sound to make the necessary impact. Charles Mackerras delivers his usual outstanding results, the Czech Philharmonic plays amazingly, and the principal singers, especially Kozená and Davislim, sing beautifully. We still need a new recording of the complete opera, but until then this will do nicely. Essential for anyone who cares about 20th-century opera, or Martinu generally.—David Hurwitz 

Performer:  Daniela Demuthová,  Stepánka Pychová,  Steve Davislim,  Michele Lagrange,  Karel Kosarek, Frederic Goncalves,  Veronika Mrackova-Fucikova,  Milada Kosinova,  Magdalena Kozená, Nicolas Testé
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Czech Philharmonic Orchestra


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