La Scena Musicale

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mozart: Idomeneo

Richard Croft (Idomeneo); Bernarda Fink (Idamante); Sunhae Im (Ilia); Alexandrina Pendatchanska (Elettra); Kenneth Tarver (Arbace); Nicolas Rivenq (Gran Sacerdote); Luca Tittoto (La Voce)
RIAS Kammerchor; Freiburger Barockorchester/René Jacobs
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902036.38 (3CD: 3 h 11 min + 1DVD: 45 min 50 s)
****** $$$$
Quel orchestre et quel chef ! À la tête d’un ensemble baroque galvanisé, René Jacobs conduit sans faillir le premier véritable chef-d’œuvre que Mozart aura donné au genre lyrique. Après Harnoncourt et Gardiner, il réussit à nous en faire saisir d’autres beautés, loin du hiératisme figé de l’opera seria. Il réitère ainsi le tour de force accompli, il y a trois ans, avec La Clemenza di Tito, faisant des récitatifs des moments dramatiques ou à tout le moins significatifs. Notre bonheur aurait été complet si la prestation soliste ou chorale était toujours de la même qualité. Oubliant qu’il fut grand guerrier, Richard Croft réduit un peu trop son Idoménée au ton élégiaque, ce qui fait double emploi avec le rôle d’Idamante, et la voix de Sunhae Im est trop éthérée pour faire croire à l’éprouvée Ilia, mais Bernarda Fink et Alexandrina Pendatchanska sont bien à leur place. Ces réserves peuvent être tenues pour mineures en regard d’une magnifique réalisation d’ensemble. Un DVD nous permet de jeter un coup d’œil sur les séances de travail intensif qui ont précédé l’enregistrement, tout en nous livrant les réflexions du chef et des artistes sur l’œuvre.

- Alexandre Lazaridès

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

W.A. Mozart: Così fan tutte

Barbara Frittoli (Fiordigili), Angelika Kirchschlager, Bo Skovhus (Guglielmo), Michael Schade (Ferrando), Monica Bacelli (Despina), Allesandro Corbelli (Don Alfonso)
Vienna State Opera Chorus and Orchestra / Riccardo Muti
Stage Director: Roberto de Simone
Video Director: Brian Large
Medici Arts 2072368 (2 DVD – 187 min)
***** $$$$

Opera on DVD went from strength to strength during the past year. There have been a number of sensational new works on the medium and chart-topping productions of standard repertory. This 1996 staging from Vienna’s historic Theater an der Wien can be safely recommended as a first choice for both seasoned collectors and newcomers to the work. With an excellent cast of motivated soloists, superb conducting from Muti, marvelous sets (Mauro Carosi), gorgeous costumes (Odette Nicoletti) and musically informed stage direction, this is the version to have and to return to. In every respect it surpasses Muti’s 1989 Milan performance (Opus Arte/Scala).

Così fan tutte was the third Mozart collaboration with Lorenzo da Ponte. Like Don Giovanni, it is designated as a Dramma giocoso but the opening credits proclaim ‘Opera buffa’ in the manner of Figaro. Buffa is presumably what director Roberto de Simone had in mind for this production. His Così presents split-second comic timing fully integrated with the score. The hapless couples (Barbara Frittoli, Angelika Kirchschlager, Bo Skovhus and our own Michael Schade) enter the fray with enthusiasm while the fulcrum of trickery and deceit is provided by Monica Bocelli and Allesandro Corbelli. The director exploits the intimate stage-frame of the Theater an der Wien while the 18th century Neapolitan landscapes of Jacob Philipp Hackert are adapted very effectively to provide sumptuous backdrops. Swift, stylish and constantly amusing, this production exemplifies the definition of opera as, “The ultimate art.”

- Stephen Habington

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Zubin Mehta Los Angeles Philharmonic: Dvořák/Mozart/Bartók

Los Angeles Philharmonic / Zubin Mehta
Euroarts DVD 2072248 (110 min)
**** $

This is another release from the vaults of Unitel, the Munich-based company that spent a small fortune making classical music films in the 1970s. Karajan and Bernstein were featured in dozens of films but other conductors such as Böhm, Abbado and Solti also appeared. Most of these productions were initially released on VHS years ago but only recently have they made their way to DVD. Deutsche Grammophon has been issuing the bulk of the Unitel catalogue but other companies are issuing those passed on.

The Mehta release documents an important stage in this conductor’s career. Mehta was twenty-six when he became conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and he stayed for seventeen years, growing into a major conductor. These performances were recorded in 1977 in concert at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Mehta left the following year to take over the New York Philharmonic. Kirk Browning of Live from Lincoln Center was the producer and RCA veteran Max Wilcox was the sound engineer and their work is first-rate.

There are two major works: Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8. The orchestra plays superbly and Mehta is at his charismatic best. He could pass for either a Hollywood or a Bollywood film star playing a great conductor. Fortunately, he was also a great musician. From these same concerts there are two shorter Dvořák pieces and Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto with the LAPO’s principal bassoonist as soloist.

- Paul E. Robinson

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Mozart Gala

Anna Netrebko, Magdalena Kožená, Patricia Petibon, Ekaterina Siurina, Michael Schade, Thomas Hampson, René Pape
Wiener Philharmoniker / Daniel Harding
Deutsche Grammophon DVD 00440 073 4430 (93 min)
***** $$$
Filmed live at the Salzburg Felsenreitschule July 2006 as part of the Mozart at 250 festivities, this gala concert has finally made it to the record stores. A two-year turn-around time is now considered slow, given that record companies rush everything to market – strike while the iron is hot, as they say. But Mozart never goes out of style, so this release is very welcome. Five operas are featured – Don Giovanni, Mitridate, re di Ponto, La Clemenza di Tito, Così fan tutte, and Idomeneo, starring seven big-name singers, all Mozart “specialists” to varying degrees. Filmed in HD, viewers are given a brief glimpse of the breathtaking scenery of Salzburg before the concert. Rene Pape kicks off the proceedings with a rich-voiced “Catalogue Aria”, followed by Canada's Michael Schade in “Dalla sua pace”, arguably his calling-card. French soprano Patricia Petibon is an exquisite soubrette, and she sings Aspasia's aria very well, except for a totally unexpected shout right in the middle – in the name of expressivity to be sure, but this is Mozart, not verismo! A highlight is the Idamante-Ilia duet with Kožená and Siurina, their voices blending beautifully. Anna Netrebko, arguably the biggest star on the program, contributes a fiery “D'Oreste, d'Ajace” singing with opulent tone but also some pitch problems and smudged coloratura. The weakest singing, surprisingly, comes from Thomas Hampson, in his single contribution – Guglielmo's aria from Così. He has all the notes, but the voice sounds strained and thin. Daniel Harding conducts the Vienna forces stylishly, with all the requisite élan and incisiveness. The picture quality is perfect, as is the 5.0 DTS Surround Sound. A great choice for Mozart devotees and aficionados of the gala genre.

- Joseph K. So

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Monday, February 18, 2008

W.A. Mozart: Works for Violin and Orchestra

Julia Fischer (violin), Gordan Nikolić (viola, violin), Netherlands Chamber Orchestra/Yakov Kreisberg

Concertone for 2 Violins, Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola, Rondo (K.373)

PentaTone OTC5186098 Hybrid SACD (63 min 35 s)
***** $$$$

Julia Fischer has previously recorded the violin concertos for PentaTone (5186 064 and 5186 064); it will come as no surprise to anyone acquainted with those fine discs that the present issue has a legitimate claim to being the best Mozart orchestral recording of the past year. It offers unadulterated Mozartiana in supreme measure. Kreisberg directs crisp, articulate accompaniment and the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra responds with remarkable spirit throughout the programme. Above all, the collaboration of Fischer and Nilolić in the Sinfonia Concertante produces a perfect balance between the two solo instruments. All too often in this music, the violinist can run away with the piece but Fischer demonstrates wisdom and forbearance in leaving her partner sufficient space.

Their playing is equally impressive in the Concertone with Nikolić on the second violin. Hans Meyer (oboe) and Herre-Jan Stegenga (cello) also make significant contributions to the piece. For the rondo, Julia Fischer performs her own cadenza. This is a splendid addition to the Fischer discography and exactly the right sort of music to take away the chill of a long Canadian winter.

That Man Nikolić: Gordan Nikolić was born in Serbia in 1968. He is currently the leader of the London Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra. He also holds professorships at the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and teaches at the Rotterdam Academy for Classical Music. Gordan Nilolić has directed the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra in recordings of the music of Britten, Bartok and Hartmann (PTC 5186 056) and Haydn (PTC 5186 300). He performs on a Lorenzo Storioni violin dating from 1794.

-Stephen Habington

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Die Zauberflöte

Piotr Beczala (Tamino), Dorothea Röschmann (Pamina), Detlef Roth (Papageno), Matti Salminen (Sarastro), Désirée Rancatore (Reine de la Nuit), Gaële Le Roi (Papagena), Uwe Peper (Monastatos)

Orchestre et Choeurs de l'Opéra national de Paris; Ivan Fischer, dir.
Mise en scène : Benno Besson
TDK DVWW-OPMFP (158 min)

Une Flûte enchantée...enchanteresse ! On n'a pas assez d'yeux pour apprécier toute la richesse des costumes, toutes les effervescences scéniques. En un tour de main, peut apparaître une jungle luxuriante peuplée d'animaux sauvages. Une autre fois, c'est la Reine de la Nuit qui surgit du sol et s'envole dans les airs, habillée d'une robe démesurée qui meuble toute la scène. Il y a plein de ces trouvailles visuelles qui tiennent de la magie. Côté chant aussi, nous sommes choyés. Le personnage de Pamina est très bien rendu par Röschmann, une mozartienne accomplie - on se remémorera avec plaisir sa Susanna des Noces de Figaro (DVD Arthaus 100 017). Roth insuffle dynamisme et justesse vocale à son Papageno. Rancatore interprète à merveille le fameux air Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen. Salminen, avec sa superbe voix de basse, brille là comme il le fait dans tant d'autres productions DVD...Question mise en scène et tournage, la référence absolue pour cet opéra demeure l'adaptation d'Ingmar Bergman, de 1975 (DVD Criterion 71), mais le célèbre cinéaste n'avait pas la contrainte du direct, et ses chanteurs - crime de lèse-majesté - s'exprimaient en suédois.

-Pierre Demers

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