CD and Other Review

Review: Tragediennes 3: Various arias (soprano: Veronique Gens; Les Talens Lyriques/Rousset)

While her colleagues scramble to devise a novel concept for every disc they release, French soprano Véronique Gens has been steadily developing a project she began six years ago with a disc exploring the French Baroque tragédie lyrique from Lully to Rameau. This release, the third in her series focusing on the tragic heroines of 18th- and 19th-century French opera, skips ahead a century. And judging by the musical riches she’s still unearthing, she may well stretch it to a fourth. Some of the repertoire here will be familiar to aficionados of grand opera: Gluck’s Iphigénie (1779), Berlioz’s Dido (1858) and Verdi’s Elisabeth (in her French incarnation) jostle with the heroines of the forgotten Auguste Mermet’s Roland à Ronceveaux and Kreutzer’s Astyanax. Most of these women sing in the face of massive personal and/or political crises, and Gens’s distinctive ability to sound both utterly refined and completely unhinged at the same time ensure that each character, however obscure, comes to life with equal vigour. Many of the arias here were originally written for singers who would today be classified as mezzo-sopranos but their low, meaty tessitura holds no perils for Gens, whose lissome soprano has always been on the dark…

July 17, 2012
CD and Other Review

Review: PUCCINI: La Boheme (Opera Australia, Takesha Meshe Kizart, Ji-Min Park)

Gale Edwards’s provocative staging of La Bohème, set amid the glamour and decadence of 1930s Berlin, was a visual feast. Anyone in want of a souvenir will thus probably prefer the DVD incarnation of this performance, but Opera Australia has covered all its bases just the same, and released it on CD as well. Recorded live in the acoustically frustrating Opera Theatre of the Sydney Opera House, this Bohème won’t delight audiophiles – the orchestra in particular sounds much more distant and tinny than it deserves – but the energy of live performance has been well captured, applause and all. As Mimì, Takesha Meshé Kizart sings with opulent voice and tremulous emotion. Her delivery is at times too mannered and grandiose, but all in all she taps effectively into the character’s sweet, passionate nature. Ji-Min Park brings ardent, youthful energy to Rodolfo, but his slender voice tends to sound pressurised, especially in moments of high volume or tessitura. The rest of the cast consists of familiar ensemble faces, with José Carbó’s Marcello as always a thing of vivid and idiomatic beauty. Taryn Fiebig is less convincing as the coquettish Musetta, however, and while Shane Lowrencev and David Parkin are solid…

June 14, 2012
CD and Other Review

Review: HANDEL: Il Pastor Fido (Lucy Crowe, La Nuova Musica)

Looking back, an intimate pastoral was an unlikely follow-up to the splashy Rinaldo, Handel’s first London triumph, with its trumpets, crusaders and flying sorceress. First performed at the Queen’s Theatre in 1712, Il Pastor Fido managed only seven performances, one eyewitness complaining in his diary, “The Scene represented only ye Country of Arcadia. Ye Habits were old – ye Opera Short.” Listening to this fresh and tuneful work today, however, it’s a mystery why we’ve had to wait until now for a recording. This is the Harmonia Mundi debut of London-based La Nuova Musica, led by David Bates, and it’s an auspicious start. Handel’s delicate orchestration involves a mere 18 players: just strings and three woodwind, but the magical effects he achieves are impressively diverse. Bates lovingly shapes every phrase with imagination and exemplary attention to detail – just listen to the exquisite pizzicato violins and flute in the sleep sequence in Act Two. His line-up of young singers is equally impressive. Anna Dennis as the shepherd Mirtillo is a singer of great daring and considerable facility, characterising her arias with passionate flair and offering some bravura top notes. Lucy Crowe’s beautiful soprano is brought into play most affectingly as…

June 14, 2012
CD and Other Review

Review: KORNGOLD’S ‘Die Stumme Serenade’ (The Silent Serenade) with the Young opera Company

This double CD is a treat for operetta fans. The Silent Serenade was designed to pave the way for Erich Korngold’s return to Germany after the war. Having given up writing for films in Hollywood and getting back to what he considered his main business, he began work on the piece in 1944. The story revolves around mysterious lovers, bomb conspiracies and mistaken identities; the usual plot devices so beloved of the genre. However, Korngold fell into that old trap which bedevils much of central European operetta – that of a poor libretto. A shame, because the music is witty, bright and melodious. It also failed, both in the US and Germany, because it had missed its time, as the excellent notes tell us. Had the work been staged in the 1930s it might have been a hit. On Broadway, the famous producer, Jacob J Shubert, wanted to make too many changes for the composer’s taste and by the time it was sorted, Rodgers and Hammerstein had revolutionised the form of musicals. Meanwhile, “Viennese” operettas had become passé. My advice: simply ignore the book and listen to the delightful score. The small orchestral ensemble, based around two pianos, is most…

June 14, 2012