opera music

ROSSINI - BIANCA E FALLIERO      NAXOS 8660407-09

Bianca e FallieroGioachino Rossini’s sumptuous opera, Bianca e Falliero, ossia Il consiglio dei tre (Bianca and Falliero, or The Counsel of Three) is a tale of emotional excess and bitter strife set in war-threatened Venice during the 17th Century. The Italian libretto by Felice Romani is based on Antoine-Vincent Arnault’s melodrama Les Vénitiens, ou Blanche et Montcassin. Rossini’s score combined virtuosity and expressivity in a way that outdid even his Neapolitan works. The opera premiered in 1819 at La Scala’s prestigious Carnival season in Milan, and played throughout Italy before disappearing into obscurity until revived at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro in 1986. Prevailing tastes at La Scala meant that ensembles predominated over arias but behind the conventional dictates Rossini lavished the utmost care on his work, fashioning an opera full of dramatic coloratura and powerful theatrical craft and notable for its rich and often surprising use of harmony. Bianca e Falliero tells the story of Bianca’s love for the brilliant young general Falliero, who comes home after defeating the enemies of Venice, as well as Bianca’s struggle to resist her brutal father’s attempts to marry her to Capellio. On this two-CD recording, the acclaimed Russian mezzo-soprano Victoria Yarovaya is outstanding in the difficult role of Falliero and Italian soprano Cinzia Forte is the conflicted Bianca. The excellent cast also includes Laurent Kubla, Kenneth Tarver, Baurzhan Anderzhanov (Capellio), Marcin Banas, Marina Viotti and Artavazd Sargsyan. Virtuosi Brunensis and the Camerata Bach Choir, Poznan, are conducted by Antonino Fogliani.

BELLINI - BIANCA E GERNANDO       NAXOS 8660417-18

Bianca e GernandoBorn in Catania, Sicily, Italy, Vincenzo Salvatore Carmelo Francesco Bellini was a child prodigy from a highly musical family. It was said that he could sing an air of Valentino Fioravanti at eighteen months, began studying music theory at two and the piano at three, and by the age of five could play well. His first composition dates from his sixth year. He was born in 1801 and died, prematurely, in 1835 at the age of only 34. Famous for his range and wonderfully flowing melodic lines, Bellini was the quintessential composer of Bel canto opera. Bellini’s early works such as Adelson e Salvini were received with great success. His first professionally performed opera, Bianca e Gernando, was staged at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples in 1826 and led to a commission by La Scala Milan to write a new opera. A revised version, given under its original title, Bianca e Fernando, took place at the opening of the new Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa two years later. Despite the composer’s enduring renown, his official operatic debut opera was known only in its revised version and has been rarely performed in modern times. The first version of Bianca e Gernando was revived at Bad Wildbad in the summer of 2016 and can be heard on this exciting two-CD recording. Set in the ducal palace of Agrigento and with its tale of secretive plots and triumph over tyranny, this original version of the opera presents both unknown music and significant differences from the revised version, giving its dramatic shape a distinctive new character. The cast includes Silvia Dalla Benetta as Bianca and Maxim Mironov as Gernando, with Luca Dall’Amico and Vittorio Prato. Antonino Fogliani conducts this beautiful music by one of the world’s greatest opera composers with flair, vigour and due seriousness.

HANDEL - OTTONE       DECCA 4831814

OttoneOne of Handel’s most successful operas, Ottone, re di Germania, was one of the most popular operas of the composer’s career, with 34 performances during his lifetime, beaten only by the 53 performances of Rinaldo. The premiere run in 1723 (Handel later adapted the opera for different singers) featured superstar Italian soloists including Senesino and Cuzzoni, and was produced at the height of London’s opera madness, when tickets changed hands for increasingly high prices on the black market. One of Handel’s finest tragedies, Ottone is a romantic account of a 10th-century German emperor and his Byzantine bride. It was based on historical characters of the period - German Emperor Otto II and his Byzantine wife-to-be Theophano (Teofane), with plenty of fictional political intrigue added. The opera is reinvented in this new recording by countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic, joined by Il Pomo d’Oro playing period instruments under the baton of Greek conductor George Petrou. Ottone captures the beauty and excitement of Handel’s music and this rare recording breathes new life into one of the master’s greatest works. Born in 1976 in Croatia, Cencic first came to public attention aged six singing the Queen of the Night aria from the Magic Flute. He went on to sing with the Vienna Boys Choir, touring widely and launching his solo career in 1992 as a male soprano, followed in 2001 as a countertenor. Ottone is a rarely performed masterpiece is a treasure trove of wonderful arias, many of which are regularly performed in concert. One deceptively simple aria, ‘Falsa immagine’, was at first scorned by the great Italian soprano Francesca Cuzzoni until Handel apparently convinced her of its genius by leaning her out of a high window! ‘Ottone is, even for Handel, unusually rich in lovely heart-rending arias.’ - The Times.

ROSSINI - SIGISMONDO        NAXOS 8660403-04

SigismondoFilled with beautiful music, though rarely performed, Gioachino Rossini’s Sigismondo dates from the early decades of the 1800s, when Rossini was among the most popular composers in Europe. He had had a series of great successes, including the dramatic Tancredi and sparkling comedies such as The Italian Girl in Algiers and The Turk in Italy. When Sigismondo premiered at Venice’s legendary theatre La Fenice expectations were high, but the production was deemed a failure, for which blame for which is usually laid at the feet of librettist Giuseppe Foppa. Audiences found the plotline confusing and were disappointed that some of the opera’s tunes had already been used by Rossini in earlier works. To modern ears, though, Sigismondo sounds fresh - as if it’s a brand new offering by one of opera’s all time greats. We can now appreciate how this tale of an abused wife who retains her love for her deranged husband pushes the boundaries of the grand narrative tradition into a more searching psychological drama. An emphasis on madness and guilt and coloratura expressions of inner feeling results in a fascinating meeting of convention with experiment, Rossini’s subsequent re-use of his music for Sigismondo in later hit operas being ample evidence of its intrinsic quality. This live recording comes from the 2016 Rossini in Wildbad Festival stars mezzo Margarita Gritskova as mad King Sigismondo and soprano Maria Aleida in a fiery performance as Aldimira, the king’s unjustly accused wife. Antonino Fogliani conducts the Camerata Bach Choir Pozna and Virtuosi Brunensis.

ANNA NETREBKO - VERISMO      DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 5013

ANNA NETREBKO, VERISMOAnna Netrebko was born in 1971 in the south Russian town of Krasnodar. After training at the St. Petersburg Conservatory she was won first prize at the 1993 Glinka Vocal Competition in Moscow before joining the Kirov Company at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, where she made her debut the following year as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro. In 1995 she graduated from St. Petersburg Conservatory and made a sensational US debut as Lyudmila in Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila at the San Francisco Opera. Praised both for her beauty and glorious voice, Anna Netrebko has since then taken the opera world by storm. Following the success of 2013 album ‘Verdi’, Anna Netrebko returns with the release of ‘Verismo’ – a thrilling collection in which she illuminates the stylistic and psychological complexities of verismo with her own special intensity and powers of expression. Verismo (meaning ‘realism’, from Italian vero, meaning ‘truth’) is the term for a style of Italian opera that started in 1890 with Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and lasted into the early twentieth century. The style is distinguished by realistic - sometimes sordid or violent - depictions of contemporary everyday life, especially among working class people. Anna Netrebko is joined on this new recording by Sir Antonio Pappano and the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, as well as her husband, tenor Yusif Eyvazov, who appears as a guest artist. The album includes arias from operas by Puccini (Manon Lescaut, Madama Butterfly and Tosca), Giordano (Andrea Chénier) and Cilea (Adriana Lecouvreur). As well as the CD with a bonus track, this Limited Edition set also includes a DVD featuring three exclusive video tracks recorded live with Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra at Suntory Hall, Tokyo. Verismo is another winning release by one of the world’s leading classical superstars

ROSSINI – IL VIAGGIO A REIMS        NAXOS 8.660362-84

IL VIAGGIO A REIMSGioacchino Rossini, born the son of an Italian town crier, became the most influential and famous composer of his day. He retired from composing at the height of his fame, aged just 37, having written 40 operas in 20 years. Rossini’s main achievement was to bring to comic opera the same expressiveness and vocal techniques that tragic opera had always demanded. He made his mark with brilliant works such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (written in only 13 days), La Cenerentola, Il turco in Italia, and L’italiana in Algeri. Rossini’s last opera in the Italian language (all of his later works were in French) premiered under the title Le voyage à Reims, ou l’Hôtel du Lys-d’Or (The Journey to Reims, or The Hotel of the Golden Fleur-de-lis). It was commissioned to celebrate the coronation of French King Charles X in Reims in 1825 and is one of his finest compositions - the great writer Stendhal wrote that ‘this opera is a feast’. Witty and brilliant, this is demanding work that requires 14 soloists (three sopranos, one contralto, two tenors, four baritones, and four basses). The plot is a contemporary farce tailor-made for particular coronation festivities, though Rossini valued the music so highly that he reused at great part of the score three years later in the opera Le Comte Ory. With a cast of ten principal and eight smaller rôles, this sparkling work is heard complete on this 3-CD box set for the first time and in accordance with the critical edition prepared by the Fondazione Rossini and Casa Ricordi. Spiritedly conducted by Antonio Fogliani, the soloists include sopranos Laura Giordano (as the visionary poet Corinna), Sofia Mchedlishvili (as the Countess of Folleville) and Alessandra Marianelli, contralto Marianna Pizzolato, tenors Bogdan Mihai and Maxim Mironov, and basses Bruno De Simone, Bruno Praticò, Gezim Myshketa and Mirco Palazzi (as the amiable Lord Sidney).

BALFE - SATANELLA         NAXOS 8660378-79

SatanellaMichael William Balfe was born the son of a dancing schoolmaster and violinist in Dublin, Ireland, in 1808, at 10 Pitt Street, which in 1917 was renamed Balfe Street. Young Michael was a child prodigy who performed on the violin at a public concert in Dublin at the age of nine. After a short career as a violinist, he pursued an operatic singing career and began to compose. In a career spanning more than 40 years, he wrote at least 29 operas, several cantatas (including Mazeppa), a symphony and almost 250 songs, such ‘I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls’ (from his most popular work, The Bohemian Girl) and ‘Come into the Garden, Maud’. He was also a noted conductor, directing Italian Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London for many years. Satanella, or The Power of Love, was his 23rd opera and made its debut at Covent Garden in 1858. The delightful work was received with great acclaim and remained in the repertoire for over 60 years but inexplicably has rarely been performed in recent years. A hybrid of classical opera with a sprinkling of stand-alone ballads, beloved by singers of the day for sheet sales promotion, the score is also notable for its Italianate flow of recitatives, moving arias, concerted pieces and ensembles and, not least, the haunting ‘Power of Love’ melody. Richard Bonynge, an acknowledged master of eighteenth and nineteenth-century opera, has edited the new performing edition recorded on this double CD release on which he conducts the Victoria Opera Orchestra and John Powell Singers. The excellent soloists include baritones Quentin Hayes and Anthony Gregory, Australian-Chinese tenor Kang Wang, and soprano Sally Silver as Satanella, a female Demon.

RAVEL - L’HEURE ESPAGNOLE & DON QHICHOTTE A DULCINEE    NAXOS 8.660337

L’Heure espagnoleL’heure espagnole means not only ‘the Spanish clock’ but also ‘the Spanish hour’. In Maurice Ravel’s one-act opera, every Thursday at the same time, the clockmaker Torquemada has an appointment to wind and regulate the town clocks, thus leaving his wife alone in the house for an hour. The clarity of Ravel’s vocal writing, and his signature harmonic magic and luminous orchestration, make this joyful frolic a delight for the ear. The poignant and poetic L’heure espagnole is coupled with Ravel’s last composition, the song cycle Don Quichotte à Dulcinée. This was commissioned in 1932 by celebrated film director G. W. Pabst and originally intended for a cinema version of Don Quixote starring the legendary bass Fyodor Chaliapin. The three songs are the lusty Chanson Romanesque, the prayer-like Chanson épique and a sparkling Chanson à boire. Leonard Slatkin conducts the Lyon National Orchestra on this recording, with Luca Lombardo as Torquemada, Isabelle Druet as his wife, Frederic Antoun, Marc Barrard, Francois Le Roux, and the excellent French bass Nicolas Courjal.

WAGNER - DAS RHEINGOLD        NAXOS NBD0049

One of music’s greatest works of art, Das Rheingold depicts the theft and subsequent surrender of the ring forged from the Rhinemaidens’ gold by Alberich. This handsome Blu-ray Audio release features the excellent Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jaap van Zweden, with soloists including tenor Kim Begley, David Cangelosi, the brilliant American mezzo Michelle DeYoung as Fricka, German baritone Matthias Goerne (Wotan) and Oleksandr Pushniak (Donner).

JANACEK - JENUFA   OEHMS OC 962

JenufaLeoš Janáčeks theatrical masterpiece Jenůfa is the first of his operas in which his distinctive voice can clearly be heard, though he was already in his early forties when he began work on it. First performed at the Brno Theatre in 1904, Jenůfa was written between 1896 and 1902 to the composer’s own Czech libretto, based on the play Její pastorkyňa (‘Her Stepdaughter’) by Gabriela Preissová. A work of unsentimental realism set in a quiet Moravian village during the nineteenth century, it tells a grim story of rage, infanticide and redemption and the plot depends on a tangled set of village relationships. Before the opera begins, the mill-owner Grandmother Buryja’s two sons have both married twice, fathered children, and died. Their wives have also died, except for the Kostelnička (widow of the churchwarden), the younger sons second wife and Jenůfa’s stepmother. Custom dictates that only Števa, the elder son’s child by his first marriage, will inherit the mill, leaving his half-brother Laca and cousin Jenůfa to earn their livings. The outstanding German mezzo soprano Iris Vermillion takes the role of the Sacristan Buryja in this recording, with Dirk Kaftan conducting the Graz Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir of the Graz Opera. The excellent cast also includes Dunja Vejzovic as stern Old Buryja, Aleš Briscein as Laca Klemen and Gal James is very moving as the vain and impulsive young beauty Jenůfa. Janácek’s brilliant score incorporates folk melodies and adds greatly to the story. The opera becomes a psycho-thriller here on this two-CD set, even without the visual components.

VINCI - CATONE IN UTICA      DECCA CD 4788194

Catone in UticaLeonardo Vinci - not to be confused with his more famous countryman Leonardo da Vinci - was a prolific Italian opera composer born in 1690. Active in the city of Naples, he became an overnight success aged 29 with his comic opera in the Neapolitan dialect Lo cecato fauzo (The False Blind Man). Further successful comic operas followed before Vinci turned his attention from ‘opere buffe’ to ‘opere serie’, a style in which he was a pioneer, influencing later composers such as Pergolesi, Johann Hasse, Vivaldi and Handel. Catone in Utica, which premiered in Rome at the Teatro delle Dame in 1728, explores the eternal themes of love, duty and honour in 46BC. Pietro Metastasio wrote the text, and chose the subject specifically to please the Roman audiences - Marcus Porcius Cato being a hero of classical history and the last upholder of the values of the old Republic against encroaching imperialism. His story is based on an episode taken from the civil wars between Julius Caesar and Pompey, after Pompey’s murder and the final defeat of Cato’s army. Catone dominates the opera, both musically and dramatically, with Caesar receding quickly into the background. Strong willed Marzia, Cato’s daughter, tries to reconcile the two generals. The music of is heroic and vigorous, often containing energetic coloratura and daring approaches to composition. This splendid three-CD box set features outstanding Croatian-born countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic in a world premiere recording of the powerful and innovative Catone in Utica. The remarkable cast also includes countertenors Franco Fagioli, Valer Sabadus, Vince Yi and Martin Mitterrutzner, with tenors Juan Sancho and Martin Mitterrutzner. Il pomo d’oro orchestra is excitingly directed by the acclaimed Baroque music specialist Riccardo Minasi. Leonardo Vinci died in 1730, rumoured to have been poisoned by a jealous husband in the wake of an ill-advised affair, and became a largely forgotten genius of Italian opera. ‘Vinci is the Lully of Italy: true, simple, natural, expressive.’

ROSSINI - LA GAZZA LADRA         NAXOS 8.660369-71

Rossini - La Gazza LadraLa Gazza Ladra is an ‘opera semiseria’ which developed from the middle of the eighteenth century with the vogue for ‘larmoyant’ tales. By Rossini’s time this genre was classified into a rigidly defined series of conventions: a drama with a happy ending, in which the innocent victim, unjustly condemned, should be saved from the scaffold at the eleventh hour and the rascal persecutor punished. The social setting of these operas always delt with a conflict between a feudal aristocracy (that in La Gazza Ladra is replaced by arrogant welders of power) and a world of humble people, nearly always peasants. Known as ‘The Thieving Magpie’ in English, La Gazza Ladra is famous for its scintillating overture that neatly melds episodic colour with the weightier drama of symphonic sonata form. The opera tells the story of a servant girl accused of stealing some silverware with which the magpie of the title has actually absconded for its nest. Seemingly lightweight, La Gazza Ladra was rooted in a true story in which a young woman was actually put to death for the bird’s ‘crime’. This 3-CD box set features a performance recorded live at the 2009 Rossini in Wildbad Festival by the Brno Classica Chamber Choir and Virtuoso Brunensis, briskly conducted by the vastly experienced Alberto Zedda, who made his debut in 1956. Born in Milan on 2 January 1928 to a family of Sardinian origin, musicologist Zedda produced the first critical edition of La gazza ladra and is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the operas of Rossini. The soloists here include Giulio Mastrototaro (Fabrizio), award-winning mezzo-soprano Luisa Islam-Ali-Zade (Lucia), American tenor Kenneth Tarver (Giannetto) and soprano Maria Jose Moreno (an alluring Ninetta), with Bruno Pratico as Ninetta’s fugitive deserter father, Fernando, and Lorenzo Regazzo in the opera’s meatiest role (Gottardo, il Podestà). With its outstanding dramatic and musical qualities La Gazza Ladra remains one of Rossini’s greatest and most successful operas, a constant presence in the repertoire since its triumphant 1817 première in Milan.

ROSSINI - GUILLAUME TELL     NAXOS 8660363-66

Guillaume TellGioachino Rossini’s last opera Guillaume Tell was first performed by the Paris Opéra in 1829. The French libretto is by Étienne de Jouy and Hippolyte Bis based on a Friedrich Schiller play drawing on the legend of William Tell. The famous overture has become a standard part of the concert and recording repertoire but the opera’s length and casting requirement means that the work has usually been cut to three acts when performed. Political concerns over the revolutionary story caused problems with the Italian censor, so that following a production at the Teatro San Carlo in 1833 it was not seen there for 50 years, though there were major productions in Europe and North America during the twentieth century. Performed for the first time in its original uncut version, this 4-CD box set features a recording of the Guillaume Tell production that was the jewel in the crown of the 2013 ‘Rossini in Wildbad’ opera festival. Rossini’s final masterpiece is a story of liberation, the oppressed Swiss attaining their ideal of emancipation by hounding the tyrannical Habsburgs out of their country. Although it was composed for the complex demands of the Paris Opéra, numerous dances, choruses and arias were dropped for reasons of practicality. These are restored in the present recording which also includes the stunning finale of the shorter 1831 version of the opera. This performance employs a new edition which restores all the cuts which Rossini sanctioned during the first half a dozen performances in response to public and critical opinion. It thus reflects what was heard at the premiere in Paris in 1829 rather than the shorter version familiar today. Soloists include Andrew Foster-Williams, Michael Spyres, Judith Howarth, with the Camerata Bach Choir Poznan and Virtuosi Brunensis directed by Antonino Fogliani.

PIOTR BECZALA - THE FRENCH COLLECTION     DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DG 4794101

Piotr BeczalaPiotr Beczała trained in his native Poland and began his career in Linz before becoming a member of the Zurich Opera. His international career took off with a spate of important house-debuts in 2004, including an acclaimed appearance in the small role of the Italian Tenor (Der Rosenkavalier) at Covent Garden, where he subsequently had great successes in the title-role of Faust and as the Duke in Rigoletto. In addition to the standard bel canto and Romantic roles, he is particularly renowned for his interpretations of neglected Slavic repertoire and received widespread critical acclaim for his recital-disc of this material on Orfeo in 2010. Awards and prizes include the Munich Opera Festival Prize in 2007 and a 2008 Grammy nomination for La Traviata on the Farao label. He is widely acknowledged as one of the most exciting, impressive, and sought-after lyric tenors of our time, not only the beauty of his voice but also for his intelligence and the ardent commitment he brings to each character he portrays. The French Collection features some of the best-loved operatic arias that lie at the core of his repertoire, all connected to France or Paris (either by French composers, or composed for the city of love). He is joined on this occasion by the German star soprano Diana Damrau and the Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Lyon, conducted by Alain Altinoglu. A perfectly cultivated and stylish singer, he is currently at the peak of his career and shows deep affinity with this music by Berlioz, Gounod, Massenet, Verdi and Donizzett. ‘Beczala displays impeccable diction, tone and musicianship ... his contribution is exemplary.’ - BBC Music Magazine.

STRAUSS - ARIADNE AUF NAXOS     OEHMS OC 947

Ariadne auf NaxosRichard Strauss’s sparkling opera Ariadne auf Naxos is a unque combination of slapstick comedy and Greek tragedy. With a German libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal and consummately beautiful music, the revised version of the opera received its World premiere at the Vienna Court Opera in 1916. Set in the house of a rich Viennese, its theme is the competition between high and low art for the public’s attention. Preparations are in progress for the performance of a new opera seria, ‘Ariadne auf Naxos’, and the major-domo informs the music master that immediately after the opera an Italian comedy will be performed, followed by a fireworks display in the garden. The outraged music master replies that the composer will never tolerate that. The prima donna furiously comments on the presence of the comedy troupe and their leading lady, Zerbinetta. In the middle of the confusion, the major-domo returns with an announcement: in order for the fireworks to begin on time, the opera and the comedy are to be performed simultaneously. Music critic and author Matt Dobkin wrote that, while Ariadne auf Naxos is ‘not as well loved as Der Rosenkavalier or as important as Salome, it is nevertheless staged all the time, thanks in large part to sopranos’ attraction to the vocal and dramatic grandeur of the title role and to the compelling spitfire Zerbinetta character.’ There was a wonderful ensemble in Frankfurt to perform Brigitte Fassbaender’s production of the Strauss opera Ariadne on Naxos in October 2013. ‘Scenically and musically brilliant’ and ‘sparkling spirit and level-headed heartiness’; this is how the Frankfurter Rundschau (Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich) described the premiere evening. Sebastian Weigle is an outstanding Strauss conductor and the acclaimed Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund is a first-class Ariadne. Frankfurt’s Opera & Museum Orchestra is in fine form and the excellent soloists also include Claudia Mahnke (The Composer), Michael Konig (The Tenor/Bacchus) and Brenda Rae (Zerbinetta).

MAX EMANUEL CENCIC - SIROE    DECCA 2CD 4786768

SiroeGerman composer, singer and teacher of music Johann Adolph Hasse was an immensely popular in the 18th-century. Best known for his prolific operatic output, he also composed a considerable quantity of sacred music. He married soprano Faustina Bordoni and was a great friend of librettist Pietro Metastasio, whose libretti he frequently set. Hasse’s opera Siroe, or Siroe re di Persia (Siroes, King of Persia) has a libretto by Metastasio and was first performed on in 1733 at the Teatro Malvezzi in Bologna (it was produced again in Naples at the Teatro di San Carlo in 1747). Hasse was asked to reset the opera for the Elector of Saxony and this version was first performed on in 1763 at the Grosses Königliches Opernhaus am Zwingerhof in Dresden. Siroe received its modern day premiere in an uncut version by Ensemble Serse in 2008 in a performance which, including two fifteen-minute intervals, lasted just under five hours. It was revived in an abridged form for the 2011 London Handel Festival in London in a performance which lasted two and a half hours. On this two-CD set Decca Classics presents the world-premiere recording of Siroe re di Persia, with countertenor Max Cencic in the title role and the orchestra of Armonia Atenea conducted by George Petrou. This same vibrant partnership saw their first album on Decca, ‘Handel’s Alessandro’, win a clutch of top awards. Cencic is supported by a truly stunning cast, including Julia Lezhneva, countertenor Franco Fagioli, Juan Sancho, Mary-Ellen Nesi and American soprano Lauren Snouffer. Johann Adolf Hasse was a pivotal figure in the development of opera seria and his sublime music encapsulates the refined aristocratic cultural tastes of the European Ancien Régime.

LUCIANO PAVAROTTI - A LIFE IN MUSIC    OPERA D’ORO OPD6013

Pavarotti - A Life In MusicLuciano Pavarotti was born in 1935 in Modena, Italy, to the family of a baker. After abandoning his dream to become a professional footballer, he spent seven years in vocal training before beginning his remarkable career as a tenor. He gained international recognition while touring with soprano Joan Sutherland and by the 1970s was ‘King of the high Cs’, famous for the brilliance and beauty of his voice. As well as acclaimed appearances at the world’s finest opera houses, Pavarotti gained superstardom at the 1990 World Cup in Italy - singing Nessun Dorma from Turandot - and was one of The Three Tenors with Plácido Domingo and José Carreras. More than just an opera singer, Luciano Pavarotti was a glamorous icon of popular culture and loved by millions. He was widely mourned following his death in Modena in 2007. Pavarotti’s career spanned 45 years - one of the longest of any operatic singer. He made his debut in Italy in Giacomo Puccini’s La boheme in 1961, and this remained one of his signature roles throughout his life. The single performance that propelled him into world fame was at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1972, when he sang the role of Tonio in Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment (La fille du regiment). The nine brilliant high Cs that he effortlessly emitted in the single aria ‘Ah, mes amis’ brought down the house, and earned him the nickname he would carry ever after: ‘King of the High Cs.’ Pavarotti - Love SongsThis celebratory CD includes music by Puccini as well as Verdi, Donizetti, Bellini, Mozart and Massenet. Opera d’Oro has also released LUCIANO PAVAROTTI - LOVE SONGS (OPERA D’ORO OPD6016). A survey of hundreds of popular and classical song titles throughout the centuries shows that love is by far the leading theme of vocal music. Yet only one track on this album is technically a love song: Tosti’s ‘L’ultima canzone.’ The rest are arias, the operatic equivalent of the love song. In Puccini’s La boheme, Rodolfo sings tenderly to Mimi ‘O soave fanciulla’ (‘O gentle girl, o sweet face bathed in soft moonlight, in you I see the dream I have dreamed forever’). Some of opera’s other great lovers here are the Duke from Verdi’s Rigoletto, who starts out as a callous seducer and ends up madly in love with the lady he kidnapped for sport. Luciano Pavarotti also sings music by Bellini, Donizetti, Tosti and Massenet.

BEAT FURRER - WUSTENBUCH       KAIROS KAI 0013312

WüstenbuchComposer and conductor Beat Furrer was born in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, in 1954 and relocated to Vienna in 1975 to pursue studies with Roman Haubenstock-Ramati (composition) and Otmar Suitner (conducting). Though little known in Britain, Furrer is a considerable force in European new music, both as the founding conductor of the leading contemporary music ensemble Klangforum Wien and as a composer in his own right, with four music-theatre works and a clutch of substantial instrumental pieces to his credit. Recent awards and honours include the Music Prize of the City of Vienna in 2003 and the Golden Lion at the 2006 Venice Biennale. Since 1991, he has served as professor of composition at the Graz University of Music and Dramatic Arts. His 1910 opera Wüstenbuch is the story of a journey into the desert (German: Wüste). The starting points for the work on Wüstenbuch were ancient Egyptian texts, brought to the composer’s attention by the Egyptologist Jan Assmann and for Furrer the desert is a base where he can place his drama without a plot. The music and texts create a rich and complex atmosphere full of history and poetry. The words include scenes from Ingeborg Bachmann’s fragment of the same name, combined with a text and scenario by Händl Klaus and further texts by Lucretius, Machado, Valente, Apuleius and from the Papyrus Berlin 3024. The question about death, which had the same significance for the Egyptians as forgetting, and about everything alien, is one layer of the composition. The fear of forgetting led to that advanced civilization whose monuments are still visible for us today – the realm of death, established by the Egyptians on the west side of the Nile. In addition to opera there are three other pieces by the composer on the second disc - giving a more detailed insight in his compelling work. This sophisticated, adventurous music is performed on these recordings by Klangforum Wien, Trio Catch and the ensemble Tora Augestad, with soprano Hélène Fauchère, baritone Sébastien Brohier, Eva Furrer (flute), Uli Fussenegger (double bass), Vadislav Pesin (violin) and Mikahail Dubov (piano).

MEYERBEER - VASCO DE GAMA      CPO 777828-2

Vasco de GamaGiacomo Meyerbeer was born Jacob Liebmann Beer in 1864 into a wealthy Jewish family in Berlin. He became the most frequently performed stage composer of his time, with a grand opera style achieved by his merging of German orchestra style with Italian vocal tradition. These were employed in the context of sensational and melodramatic libretti created by Eugène Scribe and enhanced by the up-to-date theatre technology of the Paris Opéra, setting a standard which helped to maintain Paris as the opera capital of the nineteenth century. He began his musical career as a pianist but soon decided to devote himself to opera, spending several years in Italy studying and composing before his opera Robert le diable brought him great celebrity in 1831. From then until his death he remained a dominating figure in the world of opera with works such as Les Huguenots and Le prophète. Hector Berlioz said of him that he ‘has not only the luck to be talented, but the talent to be lucky.’ L’Africaine, first performed posthumously in 1865 a year after Meyerbeer’s death, is a fascinating work. Although not as richly elaborate in melodies and set-pieces as some of his more famous operas but it retains the glamour in a number of key scenes even as it shows some influence of a more modern style. The best known part is the Act 4 tenor aria ‘O, paradis!’, which has been recorded many times. The opera was enormously successful but today it is rarely revived. To mark the 150th anniversary of Meyerbeer’s death, the work was performed again at La Fenice in 2013, and his original version in a new critical edition by Jürgen Schläder was performed by Chemnitz Opera House under the original title Vasco de Gama. The production was a success with audiences and critics and won the poll of German critics award presented by Opernwelt magazine annually as ‘Rediscovery of the year’. This superb four-CD box set from CPO presents Meyerbeer’s Vasco de Gama in the edition by Jügen Schläder, based on the last published and unpublished material left by Meyerbeer before his death. This is the first time this version has been released on CD. Soloists include Bernhard Berchtold in the title role, soprano Claudia Sorokina as Sélika, and the excellent French baritone Pierre-Yves Pruvot as the wild, demonic Nelusko. Frank Beermann conducts with great sensitivity, bringing out the drama and rich textures in Meyerbeer’s eloquent instrumental writing. Highly recommended.

HUMPERDINCK - HANSEL & GRETEL     MDG MDG9091837

Hansel & GretelHumperdinck’s masterpiece is here released in this lively recording of for the first time on a double SACD featuring an especially authentic production. Since the Weimar Theater was the site of the work’s acclaimed premiere, and it has enjoyed an unbroken performance tradition there, the conductor Martin Hoff and his highly motivated team were able to draw on the historical performance material - the original orchestral parts of the premiere being still extant and carefully guarded. The outstanding cast includes the excellent young Japanese mezzo soprano Sayaka Shigeshima as Hänsel, pure-toned Elisabeth Wimmer as Gretel, Uwe Schenker-Primus as Peter, Rebecca Teem as Gertrud, and charismatic Alexander Günther as the Witch.

FRANCK - STRADELLA      DYNAMIC 7692/1-2

Stradella CDThe composer and organist César-Auguste-Jean-Guillaume-Hubert Franck was born in Liège in 1822 and studied music there before going to the Paris Conservatoire. He briefly returned to Belgium, but went back to Paris in 1844 and remained there for the rest of his life, making his living by teaching and as an organist. In 1858, he became organist at the basilica Sainte-Clotilde, where he remained until his death. He was professor of Organ at the Paris Conservatoire, where his pupils included Vincent d’Indy, Ernest Chausson, Louis Vierne, and Henri Duparc, and as an organist he was particularly noted for his skill in improvisation. Although his output of compositions was small, it was hugely influential, laying the groundwork for the French great symphonic organ style. During his early days in Paris Franck earned a living partly as an accompanist to the Italian tenor Mario Bordogni, becoming familiar with the world of opera. His first opera, Stradella, was written when he was only 15. This three act work has survived virtually complete, as a piano score with some hints of orchestration. The manuscript has been orchestrated by Luc van Hove and Stradella was staged for the first time in this brilliant production at the Opéra Royal de Wallonie in 2012. The music is full of youthful ardour, animated by a strong romantic spirit, and the story is set in Venice. Carnival is in full swing and Spadoni, lieutenant of the Duke of Pesaro – a leading figure in the city and a member of the Council of Ten – and his henchmen abduct the beautiful young Leonor. Unaware of the love affair between Stradella and Leonor, the Duke has hired singing teacher Stradella to make the girl love him. When Leonor escapes from the palace, the Duke is furious and pursues her all the way to Rome, where Spadoni hires gangsters to kill Stradella. Will the Duke have to step aside when confronted with the reality of their love? This double CD set features a live recording from the Opera Royal de Wallonie, Isabelle Kabatu, an acclaimed Belgian soprano of African origins, takes the role of Leonor and lyric tenor Marc Laho is outstanding as Stradella. Bass-baritone Werner van Mechelen makes a worthy lieutenant Spadoni and Philippe Rouillon is impressive as the Duc de Pesaro. Paolo Arrivabeni conducts this recently rediscovered opera that provides a fascinating addition to the repertoire. Dynamic has also released this production, directed by filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael designed by Vincent Lemaire, on DVD (DYNAMIC 37692).

DONIZETTI - ARISTEA        NAXOS 8.573360

AristeaGaetano Donizetti’s early ‘mini opera’ Aristea, first performed in 1823, was written to honour Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies. Neapolitan Giovanni Schmidt recycled his old-fashioned pastoral libretto from an earlier abandoned opera set in idyllic Greek surroundings. Although categorized as a compact cantata-opera, Aristea follows the 19th-century fashion for composing celebratory scenic works with a large cast and full orchestra. It tells the classical story of enforced separation of a father from his daughter, their subsequent confusions and final happy reunion. Donizetti’s early style was influenced by Rossini but is nevertheless independent and innovative, often hinting at his later operatic masterpieces. Franz Hauk conducts members of Bavarian State Opera Chorus and the acclaimed Simon Mayr Chorus & Ensemble. Soloists include the splendid American soprano Andrea Lauren Brown as Aristea/Cloe, secret wife of Filinto, Sara Hershkowitz as Filinto, Caroline Adler as Corinna the shepherdess, Cornel Frey as Licisco, Prince of Messenia, Robert Sellier and Andreas Burkhart. This release of the only recording of Aristea is a must-have for fans of 19th century opera.

HAHN - CIBOULETTE      FORLANE FOR 216872

CibouletteReynaldo Hahn is best known as the composer of charming French songs, though his father was German and his mother was Venezuelan. In 1878, when Reynaldo was three, the family left Venezuela for Europe. Reynaldo later established himself as the most Parisian of composers after studying at the Paris Conservatory, where he became a close friend and favourite pupil of Massenet. As well as songs, he composed incidental music, ballets, operas and several popular operettas, the first and most successful of these being the delightful Ciboulette. This was composed when librettist Robert de Flers asked him to write a traditional operetta set in Les Halles, ‘like Lecocq’s Fille Angot.’ First performed at the Théâtre des Variétés in Paris in 1923, Hahn’s elegant, witty and sophisticated composition is one of the final masterpieces of French operetta. A nostagic hommage to Offenbach and Hervé, the action takes place in Paris in 1867. Duparquet, an aging poet, is the controller of Les Halles and plays matchmaker between the promiscuous market-girl Ciboulette and her young suitor, Antonin. After many adventures and much lush music the lovers are happily united. This historic RTF recording from 1958 features one of the great stars of the past, soprano Géori Boué, in the title role, with baritone Roger Bourdin as the worldly Duparquet and Michel Hamel as the spoiled aristocratic Antonin. Jules Gressier conducts and the cast also includes Camille Mourane, Madeleine Drouot and Jaques Provust. Extras with this two-CD release include bonus recordings of excerpts from Ciboulette dating from 1923 and 1952.

PAVAROTTI: THE 50 GREATEST TRACKS    DECCA 4785944

Pavarotti 50 Greatest TracksIn celebration of 50 years’ association with his one and only label, Decca, this definitive collection features some of Luciano Pavarotti’s finest recordings fully remastered. The two CDs are each 85 minutes long and all his biggest operatic hits are here, including Nessun Dorma and famous popular songs such as O sole mio, Caruso, Santa Lucia and Volare. The album features the first official release of the first known recording of the great tenor’s voice, Puccini’s aria ‘Che gelida manina’ recorded on his Italian professional debut in 1961. There are also duets with superstar friends Frank Sinatra, Bono, Eric Clapton and Sting. Like Enrico Caruso before him, Pavarotti was more than just an opera singer, he was a glamorous icon of popular culture. Loved by millions, he was widely mourned following his death in Modena in 2007. The Pavarotti album is one of many new releases from Decca/Deutsche Grammophon featuring opera superstars. On RENEE Renee Fleming Guilty PleasuresFLEMING - GUILTY PLEASURES (DECCA 478 5107) the outstanding American soprano who sang at Queen Elizabeth II’s Jubilee celebrations has put together an album of sheer indulgence. Her beautiful voice features in a personal selection of songs and arias that include music we might never hear her sing on stage. She has chosen many famous arias from roles which are not normally associated with her repertoire, including romantic highlights from operas by Dvorak, Smetana and Tchaikovsky. Two twentieth-century American composers offer the chance for Fleming to sing in her native tongue – the Irish folksong Danny Boy and John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles. Susan Graham joins her for the celebrated Flower Duet from Lakmé. GRANDIOSO! GREAT VERDI RECORDINGS FROM CARUSO TO PAVAROTTI (DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 1884) is a 7-CD box set features many of the greatest Verdi singers of all time, starting with Francesco Tamagno (Otello at the opera’s 1887 premiere) remarkably derived from almost-forgotten original matrices rediscovered in Deutsche Grammophon’s, Kiri Te Kanawa Ultimate Collectionthrough Caruso, Welitsch, Tebaldi, del Monaco and many other stars, to Luciano Pavarotti. The set also includes Ferenc Fricsay’s legendary 1960 live recording of Verdi’s Requiem, coupled with the Four Sacred Pieces, as well as preludes, overtures and ballet music conducted by Fricsay and Igor Markevitch, two of the best Verdi conductors of the post-Toscanini era. KIRI TE KANAWA: THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION (478 6165) showcases a much-loved artist as she approaches her 70th Birthday. Kiri Te Kanawa shows no signs of slowing down and recently appeared as Dame Nellie Melba in the TV series Downton Abbey. This compilation is a celebration of an artist who has captivated audiences the world over, regularly performing with leading orchestras and conductors. In 1981 her fame turned to mega-stardom when she sang Handel’s "Let the bright Seraphim" (track 1) at the televised wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, reaching an audience of 600 million people. Other highlights from her recording career include arias such as Mozart’s ‘Porgi, amor’ and the ‘Jewel Song’ from Gounod’s Faust, as well as hits from musicals such as Carousel and The Sound of Music.

DONIZETTI - UGO CONTE DI PARIGI       DYNAMIC CDS 7659/1-2

UgoGaetano Donizetti’s Ugo, conte di Parigi, with a libretto by Felice Romani, premièred to moderate success at La Scala in 1832 with an exceptional cast that included Giuditta Pasta, Giulia Grisi, Clorinda Corradini Pantanelli, Felicita Baillou Hillaret, Domenico Donzelli and Vincenzo Negrini - singers who had triumphed in Bellini’s Norma three months earlier at the same theatre. The opera tells the story of a king, Louis V, the last of the Carolingians, who has succeeded his father on the throne after the man died in circumstances that are unclear and unexplained in the libretto: obviously regicide was a subject to be avoided. One of the characters, Folco of Anjou, conspires to depose the young king. The king’s betrothed, Bianca, is in love with Ugo, and rather than marrying the king she prefers to commit suicide. Antonino Fogliani conducts the Orchestra & Chorus of the Teatro Donizetti di Bergamo spiritedly in this entertaining live recording, with soloists Doina Dimitriu as the sensitive Bianca), Yasuharu Nakajima (a passionate Ugo), the excellent soprano Carmen Giannattasio (Adelia), Dejan Vatchkov (an expressive Folco), Sim Tokyurek (Luigi V) and Milijana Nikolic (Emma).

BRITTEN – THE COMPLETE OPERAS      DECCA 478 5448

Britten Complete OperasOpera was never the same after Benjamin Britten wrote his first full-scale opera, Peter Grimes, performed to great success in 1945. Despite the triumph of this ‘grand’ work, Britten chose, except for Billy Budd and Gloriana, to compose operas that required relatively modest stage resources. His chamber operas, including The Rape of Lucretia, Albert Herring and The Turn of the Screw, deploy small ensembles and are designed for the facilities of smaller theatres. This magnificent 20-CD box set features definitive recordings of all ten Britten operas, mostly with the composer conducting the English Chamber Orchestra: Paul Bunyan (with James Lawless in the title role), Gloriana (with Josephine Barstow as Elizabeth, Philip Langridge, Yvonne Kenny, Bryn Terfel and the Orchestra of the Welsh National Opera conducted by Charles Mackerras), Peter Grimes (Peter Pears as Grimes and the Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, conducted by Benjamin Britten). The Turn of the Screw (Peter Pears, Jennifer Vyvyan and a young David Hemmings), The Rape of Lucretia (Janet Baker as Lucretia, with Peter Pears, Benjamin Luxon and John Shirley-Quirk), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Elizabeth Harwood as Tytania and Alfred Deller as Oberon), Owen Wingrave (Benjamin Luxon, Peter Pears and Janet Baker), Albert Herring Peter Pears as Albert), Death in Venice (Peter Pears and John Shirley-Quirk) and Billy Budd (Peter Glossop as and Peter Pears as Captain Vere). See also the companion Decca box set of Britten’s Complete Orchestral and Instrumental Music.

DONIZETTI - LE DUC D’ALBA      DYNAMIC CDS 7665/1-2

Le Duc D'AlbeGaetano Donizetti’s opera Le duc d’Albe or Il duca d’Alba (The Duke of Alba) was commissioned for the Paris Opéra in 1839 but the score was left unfinished by its composer before being completed by his former pupil Matteo Salvi from Donizetti’s notes. The opera received its first performance in Rome in 1882, nearly 34 years after Donizetti’s death, and has rarely been performed since. In May 2012 Vlaamse Opera in Antwerp and Ghent presented the first performances of the original French opera in a four-act version completed with additional music by Italian contemporary composer Giorgio Battistelli, whose working method was aimed at making plainly recognizable, through the use of a radically different language, the additions to the original writing. Battistelli’s task was not to repair but to rewrite. His job of completion, where differences are exalted rather than disguised, has resulted in the version of Le Duc d’Albe here recorded on this double CD, for the first time in the original French. The newly-written parts, for example the ample finale, are easily recognizable; indeed the listener has no trouble understanding where Donizetti ends and Battistelli begins or vice versa - which was not the case with the version by Salvi. The only passage of Le Duc d’Albe - or rather of Il Duca d’Alba - that became famous was the tenor aria Angelo casto e bel, which was not written by Donizetti but was composed from scratch by Matteo Salvi (or by someone else in the team working for Giannina Lucca). A bitter, indeed ironic fate for an opera that, as witnessed by this recording, does not lack musical and dramatic pages worthy of the best Donizetti. Paolo Carignani conducts the Symphonic Orchestra and Chorus of Vlaamse Opera, with the excellent Georges Petean in the title role. Other soloists include Ismael Jordi, Rachel Harnisch, Vladimir Baykov, Igor Bakan and Gijs Van der Linden.

ROSSINI – SEMIRAMIDE     DYNAMIC CDS 674/1-3

SemiramideGioacchino Rossini’s splendid two-act opera is based on Voltaire’s tragedy Semiramis, inspired by the legend of Semiramis of Babylon. Rossini began work with the librettist Gaetano Rossi in 1822 and composition took 33 days to complete, taking Voltaire’s story and making significant changes. Semiramide was first performed at La Fenice in Venice the following year and went on to be produced throughout Italy and Europe. By the late 1800s, the opera had virtually disappeared from the repertoire, and although the overture has been widely recorded the opera has only occasionally been performed. Semiramide requires a singer with qualities both of dramatic and coloratura soprano and this three CD set features Myrtò Papatanasiu in the title role. Dallas Opera recently voted the outstanding Greek-born singer their ‘Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year’. Bel canto agility is required of all the main interpreters of this masterpiece, from the contralto Ann Hallenberg (Arsace), to the tenor Robert McPherson, (Idreno) and the bass Josef Wagner (Assur). Highly recommended.

BIZET - CARMEN       DECCA 4757646

Carmen - BocelliBoth of Georges Bizet’s parents were professional musicians - his mother a pianist and his father a composer and singing teacher. The precocious Georges entered the Paris Conservatory of Music aged nine and won several awards there before studying further in Italy. In 1875 he wrote his best-known work, Carmen, based on a story by prosper Merimee, incorporating Spanish rhythms to set the stage. This outstanding release features a spectacular new studio recording of Bizet’s Carmen, with superstar tenor Andrea Bocelli as Don José and acclaimed mezzo soprano Marina Domashenko as a steamy Carmen. The magnificent Bryn Terfel is Escamillo, the toreador who seduces Carmen away from Don José and is a match for any bull. Myung-Whun Chung conducts the Orchestra Philharmonique de Radio France with pace, though the music is suitably languorous when required. The singing is of a high quality throughout and Marina Domashenko is particularly effective in the more seductive moments. Bocelli sings with remarkable sweetness of tone and Terfel brings out all the dramatic depth in his character. The cast also includes Eva Mei as Micaela and the excellent Jean-Luc Ballestra as Morales. Losing his sight at the age of twelve hasn’t hindered the success or adventurousness of Andrea Bocelli, who refuses to be defined or limited by his blindness and has sold more than 60 million albums worldwide. He earned a place in the Guinness Book Of Records for claiming the first, second and third places in the American classical charts, holding on to them for an amazing three years. Bocelli also stars in another attractively packaged double CD release from Decca, taking the title role in ANDREA CHENIER (DECCA 4782382), Umberto Giordano’s romantic and passionate opera of life and death set during the French Revolution. Andrea Chénier, a historical figure and poet who lost his life to the French Revolution, gave Giordano and his librettist, Luigi Illica, inspiration for this thrilling opera of action, intrigue and betrayal. The score and text beautifully underscore the triumph of love over death when Chénier and his beloved make their final exit to the guillotine, accompanied by some of the most stirring music of the Italian repertoire. This new recording partners Andrea Bocelli with the aristocratic soprano of Violeta Urmana, who has sung the role of Maddalena at many of the world’s leading houses, including The Metropolitan Opera, New York. The Orchestra e Coro Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi is conducted by Marco Armiliato and the cast also includes Lucio Gallo as Carlo Gerard, Cinzia De Mola as Contessa di Coigny and Elena Obraztsova as Madelon.

MOZART – COSI FAN TUTTE       WARNER 2564 68230-6

This splendid 3-CD box set recording of Così fan tutte features three of opera’s finest female singers: Kiri Te Kanawa in her luscious-voiced prime as Fiordiligi, Frederica von Stade as Dorabella and Teresa Stratas as a very funny Despina. The star-studded cast also includes the excellent David Rendall as passionate Ferrando, Philippe Huttenlocher as Guglielmo and Jules Bastin Don Alfonso. Alain Lombard conducts the Choeurs de l’Opéra du Rhin and Orchestra Philharmonique de Strasbourg in a measured way that reveals all the warmth, drama and beauty of Mozart’s masterpiece. This is one of several new opera releases by Warner, including Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress (2564 68138-0) with Robert Lloyd, Jerry Hadley, Dawn Upshaw and Grace Bumbry; and Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore (2564 68147-8) with Mariella Devia and Roberto Alagna. see more opera recordings from Warner Classics.

ARNOLD - POLLY      NAXOS 8.660241

PollyJohn Gay’s hugely successful satiric ballad opera, The Beggar’s Opera, premiered at Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1728 and ran for 62 consecutive performances - the longest run in theatre history up to that time. The work became Gay’s greatest success and has been revived many times since. In 1729, he and Johann Christoph Pepusch wrote a less well known sequel, Polly, set in the West Indies. Macheath, having been sentenced to transportation, has escaped and become a pirate. Meanwhile, Mrs Trapes has set up in white-slaving and shanghai’s Polly to sell her to a wealthy planter, Mr Ducat. Polly escapes dressed as a boy and after many adventures marries the son of a Carib chief, the ‘Indian prince’ Cawwawkee. The political satire was even more pointed in Polly than in The Beggar’s Opera, with the result that Prime Minister Robert Walpole forced the Lord Chamberlain to have the work banned. It was not performed until fifty years later when Samuel Arnold, a prolific composer for the opera, completely renovated the score and established his reputation as London’s pre-eminent theatre composer. This melodramatic tale set in an ‘island paradise’ was then belatedly another big hit and remains enormously entertaining today. Kevin Mallon here directs Canada’s Aradia Ensemble, with an excellent cast that includes sopranos Laura Albino (Polly), Eve Rachel McLeod (Mrs Ducat) and Gillian Grossman (Damaris), mezzo-sopranos Marion Newman (Jenny Diver) and Loralie Kirkpatrick (Trapes), as well as Bud Roach (Cawwawkee), Lawrence J. Wiliford, Andrew Mahon, Matthew Grosfeld and Jason Nedecky.

WAGNER – DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN    OPUS ARTE OA CD9000B D

Richard Wagner’s hugely ambitious opera Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) took more than a quarter of a century to create. Based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and taking as its subject a mythic-symbolic history of the world from creation to its destruction and redemption, this may be the most challenging and monolithic piece of music ever written. The controversial composer was an anti-semitic ego-maniac given to excessive gambling and womanising, but he was also single-mindedly ruthless in creating work that had a revolutionary influence on the course of Western music. Der Ring des Nibelungen is his largest and most famous composition and consists of four operas, three of which last for about four hours, and was originally intended for performance over four successive nights. Loosely based on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied, Wagner’s Ring tells the story of a magic ring made by the dwarf Alberich from gold stolen from the Rhine. The complicated plot also involves the god Wotan, hero Siegfried and a wild horsewoman of the air, Brünnhilde. The music is richly textured, and grows in complexity as the cycle proceeds. Wagner wrote for an orchestra of gargantuan proportions, including a greatly enlarged brass section with new instruments invented especially for the work. The Bayreuth Festspielhaus was constructed for this work to be performed in, with a specially designed stage that allows singers voices to blend with the huge orchestra without straining - essential for such long performances. This splendid 14-disc CD box set, the first ever Opus Arte CD release, features live recordings from the impressive 2008 Bayreuth Festival production. Christian Thielemann conducts the Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra superbly and the soloists include Michelle Breedt, Albert Dohmen as Wotan, Stephen Gould as Siegried, the excellent Kwangchul Youn, Hans-Peter Konig, Linda Watson as Brünnhilde and Eva-Maria Westbroek as Sieglinde. ‘Thielemann creates a musical experience epic in its scale and inexorable in its apocalyptic, shattering power.’ - The Guardian.

HANDEL - TESEO    CARUS 83.437

George Frideric Handel’s third London opera, the extraordinary Teseo, was intended to follow the success of Rinaldo after the unpopular Il pastor fido. The only by Handel opera that is in five acts, it has an Italian libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym based on Philippe Quinault’s Thésée and premiered at the Queen’s Theatre in London in 1713, receiving an additional 12 performances. Between 1713 and 1984 there were only two revivals, the first being in Göttingen in 1947. The story of the opera focuses on Theseus, who has returned in disguise to Athens, ruled by his capricious father Aegeus. Both men are in love - or lust - with the same woman, Agilea. So Aegeus tries to break his earlier promise to marry the enchantress Medea. Teseo is a gripping drama of sorcery and desperate love, with dazzling arias and colourful scoring for strings, oboes, recorders, bassoons and trumpets. The opera was an attempt to merge the French and Italian operatic traditions and contains some fabulous music as well as a superbly wonderfully dramatic role for the sorceress Medea. To succeed, Teseo needs strong singers and this recording on three CDs features a fine cast that includes Franco Fagioli as the Athenian General, Teseo, Jutta Bohnert as his beloved Agilea, Kai Wessel as Agilea’s guardian Egeo, and American mezzo-soprano Helene Schneidermann as the formidable Medea. Teseo is not often performed or recorded but this excellent performance reveals a winning blend of mythical and human characters. Helene Schneidermann is superb and Konrad Junghänel conducts the Stuttgart State Opera Orchestra with all the required drama and intensity. ‘It hardly gets better than this’ - Die Welt.

MOZART - LA CLEMENZA DI TITO       TELDEC 2564 68830-8

This 2-CD set features a terrific 1994 recording of Mozart’s last great opera by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Chorus and Orchstra of the Zurich Opera House, with Philip Langridge as a dramatically noble Tito Vespasiano, Lucia Popp (a charming Vitellia), Ruth Ziesak (Servilia), Ann Murray (Sesto), Delores Ziegler (Annio) and László Polgár (Publio). This is one of a series of excellent new opera releases by Teldec that also includes 3-CD Mozart box sets featuring Harnoncourt: Le Nozze di Figaro (with Thomas Hampson, Carlotte Margiono, Barbara Bonney and Anton Scharinger) and Cosi Fan tutte (again with Hampson and Margiono). Carlo Rizzi conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Ambrosian Singers in Verdi’s La Traviata, with the wonderful Slovakian soprano Edita Gruberova as Violetta. Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel features Donald Runnicles and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, with Jennifer Larmore and Ruth Ziesak as the poor woodcutter’s children.

STRAUSS - DIE FLEDERMAUS     TELDEC 2564 69125-6

Johann Strauss’s frothy masterpiece Die Fledermaus (The Bat) is one of the world’s best-loved operettas, second only to Franz Lehar’s The Merry Widow. The original sources for Die Fledermaus were a farce by German playwright Julius Roderich Benedix, Das Gefängnis (The Prison) and a French vaudeville play, Le réveillon, by Offenbach’s official poets, Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. Max Steiner, who was director of the Theater an der Wien, one of the leading theatres in Vienna, sensed that he could make money by producing stage works from the pen of the city’s most popular composer but Strauss early operettas were mostly unsuccessful. It was when Steiner offered Strauss a text that had been discarded by Offenbach that he found the inspiration to begin Die Fledermaus. An experienced man of the theatre, Richard Genée, was brought in to make the story more Viennese and Strauss is said to have completed the work in just 43 days. The operetta premièred on in 1874 at the Theater an der Wien and has been part of the regular operetta repertoire ever since. In this recording, the excellent Nikolaus Harnoncourt puts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra through its paces, with the Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera and a sterling cast that includes the stylish German tenor Werner Hollweg, Solvakian coloratura soprano Edita Gruberova, Christian Boesch, Marjana Lipovšek, Josef Protschka and Anton Scharinger. This double CD is one of a great value series from Warner Classics featuring Harnoncourt’s memorable recordings on the Teldec label. They include another Johann Strauss work, Der Zigeunerbaron (The Gypsy Baron), as well as Beethoven’s Fidelio and operas by Weber (Der Freischutz) and Mozart (Die Zauberflote, Lucia Silla and Idomeneo).

PUCCINI - LA RONDINE    NAXOS 8.660253-54

Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was born in Lucca, Italy, in 1858. His father died when he was five years old and Giacomo was sent to study piano with his uncle Fortunato Magi, who considered him to be a poor and undisciplined student and was later educated at the Milan Conservatoire under Ponchielli and Buzzini. Puccini subsequently took the position of church organist and choir master in Lucca, but it was not until he saw a performance of Verdi’s Aida that he became inspired to be an opera composer, starting with Le Villi. His real success began with the production of Manon Lescaut in 1893 and in all Puccini wrote twelve operas, although died before he could complete the last, Turandot. His three-act opera La Rondine (The Swallow) was first performed at the Grand Théâtre de Monte Carlo (or the Théâtre du Casino) in Monte Carlo in 1917. Although Puccini himself rated this work highly it has been produced and recorded far less frequently than some of his more famous compositions, perhaps because it is sometimes considered more of an operetta. La Rondine has an appealing score and similarities in plot and characters to La Bohème (the story is set twenty years later than Bohème, in the reign of Louis Napoleon III). Puccini wrote three versions of La Rondine and this double CD features an innovative production at the 2007 Torre del Lago Puccini Festival that is in effect a fourth version, combining the first two acts of the first version with Lorenzo Ferrero’s 1994 orchestration of parts of the Finale of Act 3 of the incomplete third version (1921), together with Ruggero’s Act 1 Romanza from the second version (1920). The Festival’s Orchestra and Chorus are conducted by Alberto Veronesi and the soloists in this vibrant recording of one of Puccini’s most appealing and accessible works include Svetla Vassileva, Maya Dashuk, Fabio Sartori and Emanuele Giannino.

EDWARD RUSHTON - THE SHOPS     NMC D146

The young British composer Edward Rushton studied at Chetham’s School of Music, King’s College, Cambridge, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and the Zurich Conservatoire. His composition teachers have included Robin Holloway and James MacMillan. Currently based in Zurich, he works as a freelance composer and pianist. Concert works have been commissioned for and played by such groups as the Endymion Ensemble, London Sinfonietta, Schubert Ensemble, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and the London Symphony Orchestra. His refreshing and very funny new opera, The Shops, is described as ‘part satire on rampant consumerism, part psychological thriller’. Its central character, Christoph Schmalhans, is an obsessive stamp collector. He manages to steal prize examples from museums with the aid of his girlfriend Francesca, who distracts attention by causing scenes. His activities eventually attract the interest of the police and psychologists. In between, there is a running commentary on the phenomenon of shopaholics, along with a song-and-dance number from members of a mutual support group. Adventurously scored for five clarinets, violin, two cellos, double bass and percussion, The Shops has a sharply lyrical libretto by Rushton’s wife, Dagny Gioulami. In this recording, made with funding from the Peter Moores Foundation, the dynamic Opera Group is conducted by Patrick Bailey and the outstanding cast includes Darren Abrahams (tenor) as Christoph, Anna Dennis (soprano) as Francesca, Phyllis Cannan (contralto), Richard Burkhard (baritone), Louise Mott (mezzo-soprano) and Paul Reeves (bass). ‘A lemon sorbet of an opera’ - The Times.

PORGY & BESS - GERSHWIN      AUDITE 23405

Porgy & BessGeorge Gershwin's ‘American folk opera’ Porgy and Bess was first performed in New York in 1935 with a cast of classically trained African-American singers. With a libretto by DuBose Heyward (based on his novel Porgy) and lyrics by Ira Gershwin, it’s set in fictitious Catfish Row in Charleston, South Carolina, in the early 1920s and tells the story of Porgy, a crippled black man, and his attempts to rescue Bess from the clutches of Crown, her pimp, and Sportin’ Life, the drug dealer. The groundbreaking music incorporates blues and jazz elements into the classical art form of opera, though the work was not generally accepted as a legitimate opera until 1976, when the Houston Grand Opera staged a triumphant production of Gershwin’s complete score. A 1952 revival by Blevins Davis and Robert Breen had previously restored much of the music cut from the original Broadway production, including many recitatives, and divided the opera into two acts, making a more operatic form. This double CD captures that legendary 1952 production and is the only official release remastered from the original master tapes in the DLR archives. The conductor is Alexander Smallens, who also conducted the original New York premiere, and the superb cast is headed by the young Leontyne Price as Bess and William Warfield as Porgy, with Cab Calloway (Sportin’ Life), John McCurry (Crown) and Helen Colbert (Clara). This a sensational rediscovery of a recording that reveals the musical and dramatic intensity of a work that Gershwin considered his finest composition. ‘There is singing, shouting, crying, arguing, fighting, intermittent praying, dancing, howling, stamping. Nobody seems to be acting but simply offering their unique temperament, vitality and sheer existence.’ - Berliner Kurier, 1952. This atmospheric release is an indispensable addition to the discography of a thrilling masterpiece.

BIZET – CARMEN    AUDITE 95.497

Ferenc Fricsay was born in Budapest in 1914 and studied music under Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály and Ernst von Dohnányi. He had a meteoric rise to fame, making his first appearance as a conductor at age 15, and became music director of the newly formed RIAS Symphony Orchestra in Germany in 1949. He specialised in the music of Mozart and Beethoven and conducted Carmen relatively seldom in the opera house, though more frequently in the recording studio. This CD from audite features the first production that he recorded for the RIAS Berlin in 1951, containing a compilation of key scenes from Bizet’s ever-popular opera Carmen. The orchestra sound is slender and transparent and he picks fresh but not exaggerated tempi. His choice of soloists – including mezzo-soprano Margarete Klose (Carmen), tenor Rudolf Schock (Don José) and soprano Elfriede Trötschel (Micaëla) - reveals marked contrasts in character. Fricsay considered recordings to be a synthesis of the arts in which audio engineering played a major role, and this recording demonstrates the extent of evocative effect that could be achieved by monaural means. Fricsay’s interpretation possesses a surprising modernity and this is a fascinating historic recording one of the world’s most popular operas.

GOUNOD - FAUST     DIVINE ART DDH27810

Charles Gounod’s five act opera Faust was written to a French libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, based on Carré’s play Faust et Marguerite which itself was loosely based on the first part of Goethe's Faust. The opera debuted at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris in 1859 but was not well-received. Recitatives were added to replace the original spoken dialogue before the opera was successfully revived in Paris in 1862, after which it became the most frequently performed opera at the Théâtre Impérial de l’Opéra. It also went on to become a staple of the international repertory, despite a full production requiring a large chorus and elaborate sets. Faust was first performed in Italy at La Scala, Milan, in 1862, with an Italian libretto by Achille De Lauzières. The recorded version here follows this edition closely, omitting the ballet scene and with minor cuts in the Waltz, Love Duet and Soldiers’ Chorus as well as in the final scene. The recording was made by the Gramophone Company’s Milan office over a two-week period in June, 1920, and was originally issued on twenty 12” discs. Though recorded acoustically, these discs were in mint condition and careful restoration has been carried out to avoid digital distortion, providing remarkably good overall sound quality that allows the excellent performances to shine through. The booklet with this double CD contains the Italian libretto as well as a synopsis of each act and biographical details of the main performers, who include Giuliano Romagnoli (Faust), Gemma Bosini (Margherita), Fernando Autori (Mefistofele), Gilda Timitz (Siebel), Napoleone Limonta (Wagner), Adolfo Pacini (Valentino) and Nelda Garrone (Marta). The Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala is conducted by Carlo Sabajno. This is the first time that this important historical recording has appeared on CD and it’s a memorable version of one of the most popular, tuneful and sophisticated operas ever composed.

JUSTIN DELLO JOIO - BLUE MOUNTAIN    BRIDGE 9273

Justin Dello Joio was born in 1955 in New York City and is the son of the great American composer, Norman Dello Joio. Justin in fact represents the seventh generation of composers in the Dello Joio family. He has received many awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Charles Ives Scholarship and the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ highest honour, the Academy Award in Music. His music has been championed by ensembles ranging from the Primavera String Quartet to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He is currently faculty composer-in-residence in the Department of Music and Performing Arts at New York University’s Steinhardt School, and was named composer of the year 2007 by the Classical Recording Foundation. His one act opera, Blue Mountain, was commissioned by Det Norske Blaseensemble and premiered in October 2007 in Oslo, Norway, as part of the Ultima Contemporary Music Festival. A recording made in performance there is now released on this CD. Written to commemorate the hundredth year of Edvard Grieg’s death, Blue Mountain is based on descriptions of the Norwegian composer’s final days and includes the roles of Grieg, his wife Nina, his physician, and his friend and champion, Percy Grainger. Dello Joio’s exciting and colourful score weaves in references to several Grieg works, including his Violin Sonata in C minor, one of his Lyric Pieces for Piano (Evening in the Mountains), a brief snatch of Peer Gynt, and references to his Piano Concerto. The Norwegian Wind Ensemble is conducted by Kenneth Jeans and the excellent soloists include Nils Harald Sødal, Njål Sparbo, Marianne Andersen and Torben Grue.

SCIARRINO - LOHENGRIN    COL LEGNO WWE 20264

The prolific Italian composer Salvatore Sciarrino was born Palermo, Sicily, in 1947 and began experimenting with music at the age of twelve. Essentially a self-taught composer, he moved to Rome and studied electronic music at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia before going to Milan to teach at the conservatory. Since 1982 he has concentrated mostly on his compositional career and currently lives in Città di Castello, Umbria, although he sometimes still teaches in Florence and Bologna. Sciarrino’s work is avant-garde and includes pieces for wind instruments, five piano sonatas and several operas or theatrical works. He incorporates isolated sonorities, extended playing techniques, frequent silences and ironic references to other music (such as American pop music) or stories (such as in Lohengrin). The latter is an operatic monodrama first seen in 1982 in Milan and then revised by Sciarrino in a new version premiered in two years later in Catanzaro. The opera is less than an hour long and is loosely based on the plot of Wagner’s opera of the same name. The story is seen from the point of view of Elsa, a vestal virgin who is accused of fornication. Lohengrin marries Elsa, but on their wedding night, despite Elsa’s attempts to seduce him, he refuses to consummate the marriage. Eventually one of the pillows changes into a swan and Lohengrin returns to the moon on its back. The beguiling opera ends with the revelation that Elsa is actually a patient in a psychiatric ward. This first-ever live recording of Salvatore Sciarrino’s Lohengrin, in the production performed at the Tyrolean Festival Erl, features soprano Marianne Pousseur as Elsa with the excellent Ensemble Risognanze conducted by Tito Ceccherini. Also included are the instrumental piece Vento d’ombra and two fantastic piano pieces, Due notturni crudeli, played by Alfonso Alberti.

ZELLER - THE BIRDSELLER      ALBANY TROY 1012/13

Austrian composer Carl Zeller (1842-1898) was the only child of physician Johann Zeller, who died before his son’s first birthday. Zeller sang in the Vienna Boys’ Choir and studied law and composition before working as a civil servant for most of his life. He composed songs, choral works and several operettas, by far the best-known of which is Der Vogelhändler (The Birdseller). This three act operetta with a libretto by Moritz West and Ludwig Held (based on Varin and Biéville’s Ce que deviennent les roses) was a great success when first performed in 1891 at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna with the famous Viennese actor and singer, Alexander Girardi, in the title role. It has a familiar boy-meets-girl plot, set in that never-never land of operetta where mistaken identities are as common as pine trees and nightingales sing on cue. The Birdseller has one of the most captivating scores ever written and its best-known melody, the beautiful ‘Roses in Tyrol’, ends Act I. This excellent Ohio Light Opera revival is conducted by Nathaniel Motta and features Boyd Mackus (King Karl), Jack Beetle (Count Stanislaus), Joshua Kohl (Adam), Julie Wright (Princess Marie), Paul Hindemith (Baron Weps), Robin Famsley (Christel) and Sandra Ross (Countess Adelaide). The Birdseller is an uplifting, nostalgic work that represents the final great flowering of nineteenth century operetta. Recorded live, it is here given a highly enjoyable and lively English language performance at the 2007 Ohio Light Opera Festival.

LEHAR - THE LAND OF SMILES    TELARC 80419

The Land of Smiles (Das Land des Lächelns) was one of Franz Lehár’s later works. With a German libretto by Ludwig Herzer and Fritz Löhner, this bittersweet ‘romantic’ three-act operetta was originally called Die gelbe Jacke (The Yellow Jacket) and was presented, unsuccessfully, at the Theatre an der Wien in 1923. Lehár later revised the work under its new title and this version was performed in Berlin in 1929. Lavishly staged, the show was built around the performance of the famous Austrian tenor Richard Tauber, a friend of Lehár’s, for whom he customarily wrote a ‘Tauber song’ or ‘Tauberlied’ - a signature tune exploiting the exceptional qualities of his voice - in most of his later operettas. On this occasion it was the famous Dein ist mein ganzes Herz (You are my heart’s delight). The Land of Smiles was also produced in New York, Vienna and London, where Tauber again appeared. The demanding lead role on this recording is sylishly sung by Jerry Hadley. Performed in English by an impressive cast, including Nancy Gustafson and Naomi Itami, under the assured direction of Richard Bonynge, this is a rare chance to discover one of Franz Lehár’s neglected masterpieces.

HANDEL - IL TRIONFO/TESEO/AMADIGI     WARNER 2564-69651-9

George Frideric Handel was perhaps the greatest opera composer of the first half of the 18th century. These works became neglected following Handel’s death but now, more than 250 years later, they are receiving much greater attention, with many stage revivals and studio recordings. This splendid 6-CD box set features Les Musiciens du Louvre and their award winning conductor and founder, Marc Minkowsky. Established in 1982, Minkowski’s orchestra is dedicated to the subtle art that is French Baroque music and has also championed several contemporary French operas. This release includes three of of Handel’s lesser known operas: Il Trionfo, Teseo and Amadigi. Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno was one of Handel’s earliest oratorios, dealing with such matters as beauty, time, pleasure and truth, and revealing the imagination and musical skill of the young composer. Teseo, with its vengeful sorceress, Medea (superbly sung here by Della Jones), is reminiscent of Rinaldo. The ‘magic opera’ Amadigi features another sorceress, Melissa (Eiddwen Harrhy), who attempts to use magic to gain the love of Amadigi (the brilliant French contralto Nathalie Stutzmann). Minkowsi and his excellent ensemble, together with a cast of talented young singers, have created period performances of great inventiveness and verve.

WAGNER – GOTTERDAMMERUNG    MELBA MR 301099-102

Richard Wagner’s vast work, Der Ring des Nibelungen (‘The Ring of the Nibelung’), comprises four full-length operas and is arguably the most extraordinary achievement in the history of opera. Götterdämmerung (‘Twilight of the Gods’) is the last of the four operas received and its premiere at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus in 1876 as part of the first complete performance of the Ring. The title is a translation into German of the Old Norse phrase Ragnarök, which in Norse mythology refers to a prophesied war of the gods which brings about the end of the world. However, as with the rest of the Ring, Wagner’s account of this apocalypse diverges significantly from his Old Norse sources. This splendid four-SACD release from Melba Recordings makes musical history by completing the first ever Ring Cycle to be recorded in state-of-the-art Super Audio 5.1 surround sound. Recorded live in Adelaide in 2004, Melba’s Ring captures all the excitement and energy of the acclaimed State Opera of South Australia production in studio-perfect sound that has won praise from critics and public alike. The State Opera of South Australia Corus and a trimphant Adelaide Symphony Orchestra are conducted by Asher Fisch, with an outstanding cast that includes the American tenor Timothy Mussard (Siegfried), Lisa Gasteen (thrilling as Brünnhilde), Duccio dal Monte (Hagen), Jonathan Summers (Gunther), Joanna Cole (as Gunther’s siste, Gutrune), John Wegner (Alberich), Elizabeth Campbell (Waltraute), Natalie Jones (Woglinde), Donna-Maree Dunlop (Wellgunde) and Zan McKendree-Wright (Flosshilde). ‘Sensationally recorded…the best-sounding cycle on the market to date, bar none’ - Gramophone Magazine.

 

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